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France Recognizes Libyan Opposition as EU Toughens Sanctions

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, shakes hands with Mahmoud Jibril, right, and Ali Al-Esawi, representatives of the newly formed council based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, after a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, March 10, 2011

France became the first Western country to recognize Libya's opposition as the country's legitimate representative. The move comes as the European Union agreed to toughen sanctions against the North African country and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

The French presidency announced Thursday it is exchanging ambassadors with Libya's opposition Interim Governing Council in Benghazi following a meeting between President Nicolas Sarkozy and two council members. While the move is significant, the French government described it as a political, rather than a legal, recognition.

Meanwhile, the European Union has agreed to new sanctions against Libya, as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels. Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado spoke to reporters ahead of the talks. "In our view, the Gadhafi regime is over. In Tripoli, we need to begin working on a cease-fire, on a national dialogue and on a political programme of reforms that can preserve the unity of Libya and give to Libya conditions of peace and stability - the sooner the possible," Arnado said.

European leaders are expected to discuss imposing a no-fly zone against Libya during an emergency summit on Friday. Britain and France have been pushing for a no-fly zone, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the conditions needed to realize one. "It's very important that a no-fly zone has a demonstrable need that the world can see, and that it has a clear legal base and that it has broad support within the region itself - within North Africa and the Middle East itself," he stated.

NATO defense ministers are also discussing a no-fly zone against Libya during a separate meeting in Brussels.

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