France: Libyan rebels are 'legitimate representatives'

Gaddafi steps up attacks against eastern oil towns; Libyan diplomatic source reportedly says negotiations for transition of power may begin soon; Germany freezes Libyan gov't bank accounts.

Libyan rebel waving hand (R) 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
Libyan rebel waving hand (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
France said on Thursday it recognized the rebel Libyan National Council as the legitimate
representative of the Libyan people, an official at French
President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said on Thursday.
The official said France would be sending an ambassador to
Benghazi and receiving a Libyan envoy in Paris.
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He was speaking after a meeting between Sarkozy and officials
from the Libyan National Council.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his government would join the EU's stance on the matter. "That's a decision by a single government," Berlusconi told

a news conference when asked if Italy would follow France in
backing the rebels. "I think it's better for us to listen to the
stance of the entire European community."
Portuguese daily newspaper Publico wrote Thursday that a Libyan diplomatic source said that Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi may be willing to start talks detailing a transition of power. The report followed a meeting between Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado and Gaddafi's envoy in Lisbon.
Meanwhile, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces launched a fresh bombardment of the eastern Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf on Thursday, rebels and witnesses said.
Bombs or missiles landed a few kilometers from Ras Lanuf oil refinery and close to a building of the Libyan Emirates Oil Refinery Company building, a Reuters witness said.He said the bombardment seemed to have come from the direction of the sea. This could not be confirmed and there were no further details of the attack. A warplane was circling over Ras Lanuf, the Reuters witness said.
Earlier, rebels fired rockets out to sea after reports that Libyan gunboats in the Mediterranean may have attacked rebel positions on the front line in the oil-producing east.
A counter-offensive by forces loyal to Gaddafi has halted the rebels' advance along Libya's eastern coast, where they have been forced to withdraw from the strategic town of Bin Jawad after coming under heavy fire.
Dr. Gebril Hewadi of the Benghazi medical management committee told Reuters television at least 400 people had been killed in eastern Libya since clashes began there on Feb. 17, with many corpses yet to be recovered from bomb sites.Meanwhile, Russia will ban all weapons sales to Libya, the Kremlin said in a statement on Thursday, effectively suspending its arms contracts with Gaddafi's government.
NATO and the European Union were set to begin two days of talks on Libya focusing on a possible "no-fly" zone after some of the fiercest fighting on the ground in almost three weeks of clashes.
Meanwhile, Germany joined other countries in imposing financial measures on the Libyan government.
The German economy ministry said on Thursday it had frozen bank accounts in the country held by the Libyan central bank and the Libyan Investment Authority.
The ministry said in a statement that the move also covered the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio and the Libyan Foreign Bank.
Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance was not looking to intervene in Libya but its military was ready to respond to any developments at short notice.
Rasmussen said any action would require a clear United Nations mandate and widespread international support.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi said the unrest in Libya would spread all the way to Israel, and even Europe, if he will be removed from power, Al Jazeera reported Gaddafi as saying to Turkish TRT television Wednesday.
Gaddafi also warned of the rising al-Qaida influence, saying that the rebellion that began on February 17 was carried out "at the behest of of foreign militants belonging to al-Qaida, who paid young people money and released prisoners to join them in the fighting."