DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has recognised Libya's Benghazi-based rebels as the legitimate opposition and said they should be given international support to lead the country's transition to democratic elections.
Senegal's position, made known after a visit by officials of the rebel delegation National Transitional Council, appears to go further than that of the African Union, which has urged a ceasefire but not gone as far as recognising the rebels.
"President Wade declared that he recognised ... Mustafa Abdel Jalil and the political forces he represents as the established and legitimate opposition, whose natural role -- with African and international support -- is to prepare republican institutions in Libya via democratic, free and transparent elections," a presidency statement late on Thursday said.
Jalil is the head of the rebel council. He was not part of the delegation, according to the Senegalese statement.
Senegal's reaffirmed its position that the process of removing Muammar Gaddafi from power was "irreversible".
Wade sees himself as one of Africa's elder statesmen and has long sought to mediate in the continent's crises, including Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mauritania and Sudan. But the results have been mixed.
The AU has complained that its efforts to seek an end to the conflict in Libya have been derailed by Western nations, who have led a military campaign to neutralise Gaddafi's forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama also said that Gaddafi would eventually leave power, as NATO intensified its weeks-long bombing of government targets and said on Friday it had sunk eight Libyan warships.