PARIS, March 10 (UPI) -- France declared the rebel Libyan National Council the representative of the Libyan people Thursday and said it would send an ambassador to Benghazi.
A spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy said the council would respond by sending an envoy to Paris, The Wall Street Journal reported.
France was the first country to take such a step, and officials urged others to follow its example. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would hold talks with Libyan rebels next week during a visit to the Middle East, and the United States said it was suspending relations with the Libyan embassy in Washington.
The rebels continued to hold the eastern coast, including Benghazi, the country's second largest city and their de facto capital. But forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi have begun pushing the rebels back in central Libya.
A rebel spokeswoman hailed France's move.
"This is just the first step, a sign of the direction things are moving," Iman Bugaighis said. "This is the first declaration of legitimacy from a member of the U.N. and a member of the EU and one of the countries which have a major role in shaping international politics."