OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada formally recognized the Libyan rebels as the legitimate government of the country on Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told Parliament the rebels are the true representatives of the Libyan people.
He said the recognition is part of an enhanced effort to work with the National Transitional Council of Libya, the key rebel organization fighting dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Canada joins France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in formally recognizing the council.
The minister's announcement came before Parliament voted 294-1 to extend Canada's military mission in Libya to the end of September.
After the vote, Baird told reporters that he planned to meet soon with a Canadian-based member of the council. He moved to dispel any apprehension about the council, saying it represents "the best hope" for the future of the Libyan people.
"Whatever happens, they couldn't be any worse than Col. Gadhafi," said Baird, who reaffirmed last month's G-8 commitment that Gadhafi must go.
Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said pressure must be maintained on the Gadhafi regime to ensure that civilians are protected from further attacks.
"Strikes on his command-and-control posts must and will continue," MacKay said.
In March, Canada sent fighter jets, patrol planes, aerial tankers and a warship to join a United Nations-sanctioned mission led by NATO to protect civilians from Gadhafi's forces.