BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Rebels in Libya's east pulled back Friday after a failed advance on an oil town, as embattled ruler Moammar Gadhafi rejected a decision by the U.S. and other countries to recognize those fighting to oust him.
The front lines in the Libyan civil war have largely stagnated since a popular uprising seeking to oust Gadhafi broke out in February. Rebels control much of the country's east and pockets in the west. Gadhafi controls the rest from his stronghold in the capital Tripoli.
On Friday, the rebels' National Transitional Council won a major boost when the U.S. and more than 30 other nations formally recognized it as the country's legitimate government. The decision of the 32-member Contact Group on Libya, meeting in Turkey, also said Gadhafi's regime is no longer legitimate.
In an audio broadcast to thousands of supporters in the town of Zlitan, Gadhafi rejected the decision Friday, saying that "the Libyan people will persevere." Addressing the Contact Group, he said: "You guys say that Gadhafi is over. Then why are all these people demonstrating outside?"
Thursday's rebel attack on Brega, a key oil installation and long a rebel goal, may have been an attempt to strengthen the rebels' position ahead of the meeting on Libya's future.
Abdel-Hamid Badein, a rebel fighter, said the rebels had to withdraw to their previous positions after they were repulsed.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim condemned the attack and particularly what he alleged was NATO's close coordination with the rebels in violation of the alliance's U.N. mandate to protect civilians.
"It was a full scale attack and it was heavy and merciless," Ibrahim said. "We were successful in combating this attack and we did defeat both NATO and the rebels and we killed many rebel forces and captured a good number of them as well."
NATO is enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and hitting government targets as part of its U.N. mandate. It has rejected Libyan allegations that it is going beyond that mandate.
Associated Press reporters Ben Hubbard in Cairo and Paul Schemm in Tripoli contributed reporting.