PARIS - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his ruling clique have lost legitimacy and must step down to end violence in the country, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday.

In a letter signed by both leaders and addressed to the president of the European Union Council, Herman von Rompuy, they called for plans to prepare to help the Libyan rebellion and said these could include imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

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"It is clear to us the (Libyan) regime has lost any legitimacy that it could have," the letter said. "To end the suffering of the Libyan people, Muammar Gaddafi and his clique must leave."

Sarkozy and Cameron, who have been working together to draft a United Nations Security Council resolution about Libya, also urged the EU to recognize the rebellion's National Libyan Council as a viable political entity.

"We need to send a clear political signal that we consider the Council as a viable political counter-party and an important voice for the Libyan people at this time," the letter said.



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France became the first country to recognize the rebel group earlier on Thursday, and Sarkozy has raised the idea of a limited air campaign against forces loyal to Gaddafi, three party sources told Reuters after a lunch with the president.

Sarkozy will present concrete plans for a response to the crisis at a European Union summit on Friday in Brussels. The sources said that the possibility of strikes was among the options to be discussed.

The U.N. Security Council is split on whether to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya, an option Paris and London have pushed as they seek ways to limit Muammar Gaddafi's ability to mobilize his forces against rebels.

The British and French leaders also called on the international community to enforce an arms embargo on Libya.

"We call on all countries to enforce completely the embargo on weapons, including on supplies for armed mercenaries," they said in the letter, which outlined seven points to be raised at the European meeting on Friday.

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