France recognises Libya rebels, rallies EU
France became the first country to recognise Libya's opposition as its rightful representatives on Thursday and will send an ambassador to rebel-held territory rocked by violence, officials said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy seized the initiative as the European Union leadership hesitated to recognise the rebels, pending a summit on Friday at which EU leaders will urgently discuss the Libyan crisis.
"France has recognised the national transition council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," one of the opposition body's envoys, Ali al-Issawi, told reporters after meeting with Sarkozy on Thursday.
"On the basis of this recognition, we are going to open a diplomatic mission, that is our own embassy in Paris, and an ambassador from France will be sent to Benghazi," a key rebel-held city, he added.
"This ambassador will be in Benghazi for a transition period before returning to Tripoli."
A French presidential official confirmed Issawi's statement but declined to give further details.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said meanwhile in Brussels that France and Germany were calling on their European Union partners to engage with the Libyan opposition.
"We are on the same track to say Colonel Kadhafi is discredited, he must go, we must engage dialogue with the new Libyan representatives," he said, after talks with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
The other Libyan opposition envoy in Paris on Thursday, Mahmud Jibril, said that Sarkozy told his delegation "there will be a strategic plan proposed by France tomorrow before the European Council" of EU states' leaders.
Sarkozy, the first head of state to meet with the Libyan opposition, "told us there was a comprehensive plan which was going to be proposed and adopted in order to deal with the situation at a European level," Jibril said.
The plan was "to work for the Libyan people and save them from their suffering and the massacres carried out against them," he added, speaking in Arabic through a French interpreter.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and European lawmakers met the two envoys this week, but Ashton hesitated to recognise the council immediately.
In a pro-democracy uprising in the north African country, fighting has intensified between the rebels and forces loyal to the regime.
France's stand on the Libyan crisis follows heavy criticism of its handling of recent popular uprisings that ousted two North African leaders with whom it had warm ties: Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday Libyan government emissaries may be heading to Brussels to meet European representatives.
Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado on Thursday said he had sent a message to Moamer Kadhafi through a Tripoli envoy saying: "The Kadhafi regime is over".
© 2011 AFP