Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, who co-chaired the meeting with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said "very important steps" had been taken in Istanbul.
More than 30 countries recognise Libyan rebels
ISTANBUL // Major western and regional powers said yesterday that they officially recognised the Libyan opposition as the legitimate representatives of the country in a move designed to convince Col Muammar Qaddafi that his 41 years in power are over.
A statement released after the fourth meeting of the contact group for Libya demanded the resignation of Col Qaddafi. The group also called for the creation of a transitional government in Libya "to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power".
The contact group, made up by more than 30 countries, includes leading western powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France as well as regional countries such as host nation Turkey, the UAE and Morocco and international organisations including the Arab League, the African Union and Nato.
"The contact group reaffirmed that the Qaddafi regime no longer has any legitimate authority in Libya and that Qaddafi and certain members of his family must go," the statement said. "Henceforth and until an interim authority is in place, participants agreed to deal with the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate governing authority in Libya."
Col Qaddafi responded late last night, saying the contact group's recognition of the NTC, held no significance.
"Recognise the so-called National Transitional Council a million times: it means nothing to the Libyan people who will trample on your decisions," he said in a message to thousands of his supporters in Zliten.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, who co-chaired the meeting with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said "very important steps" had been taken in Istanbul. In a reference to the contact group's position regarding Col Qaddafi, he added that "Qaddafi has brought his own people into a very difficult situation".
The decision by the contact group is a major political boost for the NTC, and the broad recognition could also help Col Qaddafi's opponents, who have been waging a five-month war against his regime, to overcome their financial problems.
The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said the international community could now "unfreeze certain Libyan state assets because it is the NTC that will henceforth exercise this responsibility". Mamoud Shamman, an NTC official in Istanbul, said the opposition needed US$3 billion (Dh11bn). "We need funds, funds, funds," he said.
The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said that the UN's special envoy for Libya, Abdelilah Al Khatib, would conduct negotiations with the Libyan leadership that would revolve around the questions how and when - not if - Col Qaddafi would resign. There was "no other option but for Qaddafi to leave", Mr Frattini said.
"Participants strongly underlined the need for Qaddafi to step down without further delay," the statement said. The contact group's members "reminded Qaddafi and his associates that their responsibilities and obligations under international law continue and that they will be held responsible for any crimes against humanity and war crimes".
Mr Davutoglu told a press conference after the meeting in Istanbul that the Contact Group as a whole stood behind Mr Al Khatib's mission. He said the UN envoy would conduct negotiations with both sides in Libya in the name of the international community. "We wholeheartedly support Mr Al Khatib's efforts," Mr Davutoglu said.
The contact group statement said that "Qaddafi must leave power according to [a] defined framework to be publicly announced", but gave no further detail. A Turkish "road map" for Libya, which has not been published, calls for a ceasefire, followed by Col Qaddafi's resignation and the start of a political process to establish a more democratic government in Libya, according to Turkish diplomats.
The Turkish plan also called for Col Qaddafi to be moved to a "save haven" either inside or outside Libya, several Turkish newspapers reported yesterday. A council, made up by two representatives of the government side and two members of the opposition, would rule the country in a transitional period leading up to elections. The four council members would elect a fifth member who would serve as interim president.
The contact group statement welcomed the "efficient and effective" Nato-led military campaign against Col Qaddafi's forces, but stressed the need for a political solution. The military pressure on Col Qaddafi will be kept up, however. The United Kingdom said it would deploy an extra four Tornado jets for attacks in Libya.