Libya contact group recognises rebels

'Gathafi must leave power according to defined steps to be publicly announced'

ISTANBUL - The Libya contact group recognised Friday the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) as the country's "legitimate governmental authority," according to a statement.
The group of major Western and regional powers also urged "all relevant parties" to make efforts "for the formation of an interim government to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power," said the statement, to be formally issued at the end of a meeting in Istanbul later Friday.
It urged embattled strongman Moamer Gathafi, hanging on in Tripoli despite almost four months of NATO-led bombings, to step down.
Gathafi "must leave power according to defined steps to be publicly announced," said the statement, distributed by one delegation at the talks.
A number of countries have already unilaterally recognised the NTC, based in the rebel stronghold of Binghazi, as Libya's legitimate representative.
The contact group's recognition "means that we can now unfreeze certain Libyan state assets because it is the NTC that will henceforth exercise this responsibility," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters.
His Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, said earlier that the contact group was also set to designate the UN special envoy for Libya, Abdel Ilah al-Khatib, as "the sole interlocuter" between the Gathafi regime and the rebels based in 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," he said.
The contact group includes the countries participating in the NATO-led campaign targeting Gathafi's regime, as well as other regional players.