In a move that raises the stakes for Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, an international contact group has agreed to recognize rebel forces as the "legitimate authority" in Libya.
The group hopes for a transition to democracy
Western, Arab and African countries, plus international organizations, meeting in Istanbul on Friday, have agreed to formally recognize Libyan rebels fighting to topple Moammar Gadhafi, designating them the country's legitimate rulers.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the recognition of the rebel Transitional National Council (NTC) was included in the final declaration of the group to be released at the end of their consultations in Turkey.
The meeting also agreed on a road map that would see Moammar Gadhafi relinquish all power and military responsibility, and call a ceasefire. It also includes a plan for a transition to democracy.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the terms of the agreement were clear and involved the "departure of Gadhafi."
Group wants smooth transition of power
Clinton and her counterparts from Britain, France and Italy were among the representatives from some 40 countries and international organizations, including the Arab League, African Union, NATO and United Nations, who attended the one-day meeting in Istanbul.
Mahmud Jibril, the de facto foreign minister of the NTC, was also present and was seeking both financial and military aid for the cash-strapped opposition.
It's game over for Gadhafi, the Libya Contact Group says
A US official traveling with Clinton said the talks should help the rebels prepare for power.
"It's about how we are going to collectively help to prepare the NTC to govern. It's just a fact that countries are starting to look past Gadhafi. He's going to go, and the meeting can be a useful place to take stock and prepare for the transition," the official said, requesting anonymity.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy revealed that Rome had decided to unfreeze some 100 million euros that would now be handed to the rebels and that a further 300 million euros would follow.
Frattini also said that the UN special envoy for Libya, Abdel Ilah al-Khatib, would be designated as the "sole interlocutor" between the Gadhafi regime and the rebels, based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"Mr. al-Khatib is entitled to present a political package, including the ceasefire, and to negotiate with Tripoli and Benghazi to form a government of national unity," Frattini said.
He added that there was "no other option but that Gadhafi leaves. The question now is when and how."
Turkey, as host of the meeting in Istanbul, also invited Russia and China to join the talks, but both countries, critical of the NATO-led campaign, turned down the offer.
Author: Gregg Benzow (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer