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Republican Sen. Kirk: ‘Kudos’ to President Obama on Libyan mission

US Republican Senator John McCa(C) speaks during joint press conference with Senator Lindsey Graham (L) Senator Mark Kirk (2nd L)

US Republican Senator John McCain (C) speaks during a joint press conference with Senator Lindsey Graham (L), Senator Mark Kirk (2nd L) and Senator Marco Rubio (R) at the Corinthia hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli on September 29, 2011. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD TURKIA (Photo credit should read MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Updated: November 11, 2011 5:42PM

The Libyan people could not wait to rush up and thank Sen. Mark Kirk, Sen. John McCain and other American officials visiting the capital of Tripoli Thursday, Kirk said in a conference call from Malta.

The images of longtime dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi have been scrubbed from Tripoli and residents seem happy to be rid of him and grateful for the assistance from America and Europe in taking Gadhafi down, Kirk said.

“This was a success by President Obama and his team … unquestioned kudos go to the president and his team,” Kirk said, acknowledging that fighting still rages around Gadhafi’s home town of Sirt and in Bani Walid. Gadhafi has not yet been found.

“The challenges are not over yet,” Kirk said. But, he said after a day meeting the country’s new interim leaders, “The mood from across the board of the leaders is a tremendous amount of optimism.”

The leaders who emerged from the uprising appear to him to be “Nice, genteel, academic technocrats” who favor elections very soon, Kirk said.

Kirk said leaders were not worried about Islamic extremists taking power in early elections. They expected candidates backed by the Muslim Brotherhood would take no more than 10percent to 15 percent of the vote, Kirk said.

Gadhafi’s former political prisoners at the Al Jadid prison in Tripoli are now running the prison and they have invited Human Rights Watch, an American non-profit, to monitor conditions at the prison, a big change from under Gadhafi, Kirk said.

With the U.S. and other countries unfreezing billions of dollars in Libyan assets, the country’s leaders are not asking for financial help from the United States. But with 60,000 wounded from the battles with Gadhafi’s forces “overwhelming the system” they could use medical help and supplies, Kirk said.

Libyan leaders are trying to stitch together Gadhafi’s militias into a national army, he said.

McCain and Kirk were joined on the trip by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), like Kirk, an active member of the U.S. military, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a freshman often mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate. They are on their way home via Malta, he said.

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