France on Thursday formally recognized the rebel Libyan National Council as the only legitimate governing body in the country and plans to send an ambassador to the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi, French media reported.
The French presidential administration made the announcement in a statement after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Libyan opposition leaders in the Elysee Palace.
Sarkozy called on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down as early as on February 25, a few days after clashes between insurgents and pro-Gaddafi forces turned into large-scale battles in the country's east, with Gaddafi sending warplanes to attack rebels.
The turmoil in the North African country, which experts warn is on the verge of transforming into a full-scale civil war, has already claimed the lives of several thousand people.
The Libyan National Council was created by insurgents amid the unrest to govern the country's eastern territories, where many major cities and towns have been turned into opposition strongholds.
On Wednesday, the head of the council's crisis committee called on the European Union to recognize it as the country's legitimate ruling body.
The council also urged Gaddafi on Tuesday to resign from his post within 72 hours and leave the country, saying that in this case, the council may waive its "right" to the prosecution of Gaddafi's "crimes of oppression, persecution, starvation and massacres."
NATO and the European Union are holding a meeting in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the possible implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya, which would prevent Gaddafi from bombing insurgent strongholds.
PARIS, March 10 (RIA Novosti)