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Italy Recognizes Libyan Rebel Council

A rebel fighter gestures beside a Kingdom of Libya flag on a truck at a staging area to the east of Brega, April 4, 2011

A rebel fighter gestures beside a Kingdom of Libya flag on a truck at a staging area to the east of Brega, April 4, 2011

Italy has become the third nation to declare the Libyan rebel interim council as the only legitimate government in the North African country, dealing a blow to separate diplomatic efforts by Moammar Gadhafi's government, as well as by two of his sons.

In Rome Monday, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy has decided to recognize the Transitional National Council as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people. He said Italy plans to send an envoy to the eastern city of Benghazi - where the rebels' government is based - within days.

Italy follows France and Qatar in recognizing the rebel council. Frattini welcomed rebel envoy Ali al-Essawi, who said an idea to replace Mr. Gadhafi with one of his sons is unacceptable.

The New York Times reported that at least two of the Libyan leader's sons have proposed Mr. Gadhafi relinquish power for a transition to constitutional democracy under the direction of his son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi.

But government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said Monday that while Libya is ready for a "political solution" with world powers, Mr. Gadhafi's future is non-negotiable. He said Libya could have "elections, referendums, anything" - but that Mr. Gadhafi must lead any political transition.

State television showed the Libyan leader briefly waving to supporters Monday outside his compound in Tripoli. It was Mr. Gadhafi's first public appearance in more than a week.

In Ankara, acting Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi held talks with senior Turkish officials on brokering a cease-fire with opposition forces. Turkey said it expects to host representatives from the rebel national council in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Libyan rebels made gains Monday in a battle for a key oil town. Foreign media reports said the rebels controlled access in and around the eastern town of Brega, where rival forces have been in a standoff for days.

On the western front, troops loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi used tanks and snipers to keep the city of Misrata under siege.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is appealing to combatants to allow it access to Misrata, the country’s third largest city, where dozens of injuries and deaths are reported from fierce battles.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain would not arm the rebels but would provide them with needed telecommunications equipment. NATO has assumed command of the military operation to enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over Libya, which has helped the rebels through airstrikes.

Hague added that an international group coordinating a political response for Libya will gather in the Qatari capital, Doha, next week.

As part of the planned transition to NATO command, the U.S. military was pulling its warplanes from lead position missions Monday and taking a support role.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters..