German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made a surprise visit to the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Monday, where he announced that Germany now officially recognized the National Transitional Council (NTC).
"The NTC is the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Westerwelle told reporters after meeting council officials. "We want a free Libya, in peace and democracy without [leader] Moammar Gadhafi."
Westerwelle, accompanied by Development Minister Dirk Niebel, made the unexpected stop in Libya while on the way to a planned trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Germany becomes the 13th nation to recognize the NTC following Australia, Britain, France, Gambia, Italy, Jordan, Malta, Qatar, Senegal, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
"[Westerwelle] said that he came here to support the Libyan revolution, to support the national council. They believe it is the legitimate representation of the Libyan people," NTC vice chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga told news agency Reuters after meeting the German delegation.
"It is a very a big step and we appreciate it," Ghoga added.
The German ministers traveled directly to NTC headquarters to meet with its head, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, for talks.
Gadhafi is on 'wrong side'
Prior to their departure, Westerwelle again urged strongman Moammar Gadhafi to give up power. "The people of Libya want a peaceful and free future without Gadhafi. This is also our goal. The dictator is on the wrong side of history," he said.
Westerwelle also defended his country's resistence to use military force, saying Germany was "not neutral" but stood "on the side of democracy and freedom." He said Germany was "respected [by other countries] because we do a lot of humanitarian work."
Germany abstained on March 17 from a UN Security Council resolution backing intervention in Libya and chose not to join the NATO-led air war in support of the rebels. In the meantime, however, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere has said his country would consider sending peacekeeping troops if and when Gadhafi lost power.
Benghazi has become the center of Libyan resistance to Gadhafi, who has maintained his grip on western parts of the country, including the capital, Tripoli.
Westerwelle and Niebel are expected to travel back to Malta, from where they will fly to Israel and then on to the Palestinian territories on Monday evening.
Author: Darren Mara (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Martin Kuebler