BENGHAZI, Libya (AFP) – Germany on Monday gave official recognition to Libya’s rebels, amid a surge in fighting across the country and as the US pressed African states to demand that strongman Moamer Kadhafi step down.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting rebel leaders in their capital Benghazi that Germany recognises their National Transitional Council as the “legitimate representative” of the Libyan people.
“We want a free Libya, in peace and democracy without Kadhafi,” he added.
Germany becomes the 13th nation to recognise the NTC as “legitimate representative,” after Australia, Britain, France, Gambia, Italy, Jordan, Malta, Qatar, Senegal, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Berlin abstained from a UN Security Council resolution vote on March 17 backing intervention in Libya and chose not to join the NATO-led air war in support of the rebels.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday pressed all African states to demand Kadhafi’s departure.
“I urge all African states to call for a genuine ceasefire and to call for Kadhafi to step aside,” she said during a visit to the African Union headquarters’ in Addis Ababa.
Kadhafi remains adamant he will not step down, according to the head of the World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who said that during a game of chess in Tripoli on Sunday the strongman insisted he had no position of power to relinquish.
“I am neither premier nor president nor king. I do not hold any post in Libya and therefore I have no position which I should give up,” Ilyumzhinov quoted Kadhafi as telling him during a two-hour meeting and the chess game.
The chessboard encounter came as fighting between Kadhafi’s forces and rebels raged across Libya, with casualties reported in the western town of Zintan and the strategic oil hub of Brega in the east.
Kadhafi loyalists on Monday killed 21 rebels on the frontline between Ajdabiya and Brega, a rebel commander told AFP.
“Our men were tricked. Kadhafi’s soldiers pretended to surrender, coming with a white flag, and then they fired on us,” he said.
Battles were also being fought in the Berber mountains southwest of Tripoli, in nearby Yafran, and at Dafnia near Misrata, Libya’s third city, rebel sources told AFP.
An AFP correspondent said Kadhafi’s forces pounded the outskirts of Zintan on Sunday, killing at least seven rebels and wounding 49.
Government forces posted a few kilometres (miles) east of Zintan, which remains under rebel control, fired Grad and Katyusha rockets at the town.
In the east, which is largely under the control of the insurgents, a rebel commander told AFP that four of his men were killed and 30 wounded in clashes on Sunday with Kadhafi’s forces on the frontline between the towns of Ajdabiya and Brega.
Intense rocket fire and shelling rocked an area half-way between Ajdabiya and Brega early Sunday but “all is calm this morning,” Mussa al-Mograbi said by telephone on Monday.
NATO said it was taking “necessary action” to protect civilians.
“NATO is monitoring the situation closely and is taking necessary action to protect civilians,” a statement by the western alliance said.
“Along the north-west coast of Libya between Tripoli and the Tunisian border Libyans long tired of Kadhafi rule are challenging his legitimacy openly, and in doing so, are under threat of attack,” it said.
In Tripoli, the regime spokesman said its forces had eliminated rebel “pockets of resistance” at Zawiyah west of the capital.
Mussa Ibrahim told reporters Kadhafi’s forces had “total control” of the area from Ajdabiya in the east to the Tunisian border in the west.
He denied reports that the rebels were gaining ground, while acknowledging clashes at Zawiyah but playing them down.
“It is pockets of resistance. The rebels there are no more than a hundred. The army has killed some of them, captured others and is negotiating the surrender of others,” Ibrahim said.
He again rejected talks about Kadhafi leaving the country.
“No one has the right to demand that the leader stand down. No one can come here with a plan that includes his departure,” he said, adding such an idea is “immoral, illegal and has no sense.”
Mikhail Margelov, the special envoy of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, told the RIA Novosti news agency he would visit Tripoli next week for talks on the Libya conflict, but did not make it clear if he would meet Kadhafi.
Margelov last week met the opposition in Benghazi, as Russia positions itself as a possible mediator in the conflict.