WASHINGTON — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio arrived in Libya on Thursday, joining a small group of lawmakers for meetings with the former rebels who have ended the rule of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Rubio said he was touched by the thankfulness and hope he heard from Libyans on the street.
"These people are very, very proud of their revolution, and very excited about what it means for their future," he said in a conference call from Malta.
He described pro-American graffiti and Libyans flashing "victory" signs at the motorcade.
"You could tell it was genuine. People wanted to talk to you," he said. ". . . I'm talking like, guys on the corner, young people at the cafe."
Rubio spent the day meeting with key officials, including members of the National Transitional Council, the opposition movement whose fighters overthrew Gadhafi last month. The trip includes Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mark Kirk.
On Wednesday, the lawmakers visited Malta and met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to discuss Malta's "ongoing efforts to facilitate Libya's transition to democracy and life after Gadhafi," Rubio's office said.
A report by the website Malta Today said the senators expressed thanks for Malta's role in assisting the evacuation of hundreds of American citizens from Libya during the uprising in February.
Rubio backed the U.S. engagement in Libya and pushed for more involvement than President Barack Obama's administration was willing to allow. Other Republicans have called for a lower U.S. military presence abroad due to cost issues. Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he has a strong interest in world issues — an interest that would seem to dovetail with his political ambitions.
Rubio will return to Florida tonight, his office said.