The African Union [AU] officially recognized the National Transitional Council (TNC)  as the legitimate government of Libya. South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement on Tuesday.

The African Union recognizes the [NTC] as the representative of the Libyan people as they form an all-inclusive transitional government that will occupy the Libyan seat at the African Union, said Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who chairs the AU.

The AU stands ready to support the Libyan people... as they rebuild their country towards a united, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Libya.

The AU had already committed its support to the rebel government and demanded the removal of Moammar Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, but the organization hadn't made an official recognition of the council.

The announcement Tuesday is significant because it further increases the legitimacy of the N.T.C., even as the revolution in Libya continues. Not only that, the AU's relationship with Gadhafi was long and friendly, and in his latter years as the Libyan leader, Gadhafi shifted his efforts from the Arab League to the AU.

AU member countries will now be more reluctant to accept Gadhafi should he choose to flee, although that scenario is becoming less likely. In recent months, many speculated that Gadhafi would try to escape to Chad or South Africa. Although his whereabouts are currently unknown, it is probable that Gadhafi is still somewhere in his home country.

The NTC has been recognized by 89 national governments, as well as accepted into the U.N. by an additional 33 countries.

Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil is currently in New York, representing Libya in the General Assembly for the first time since the fall of Gadhafi.

The government is currently leading rebel fighters in the Libyan city of Bani Walid, where pro-Gadhafi forces have thrice driven back invading forces. Along with Sabha and Gadhafi's home town of Sirte, Bani Walid is the last city still controlled by loyalists.