BENGHAZI (AFP) - Libyan rebels were on a diplomatic upswing Tuesday, gaining Canada's recognition one day after Germany's, but suffered a setback on the battle front against Moamer Kadhafi's troops. Tripoli slammed as "irresponsible" a visit to the rebel bastion of Benghazi by Germany's foreign minister, as the United States pressed Africa to take tougher action against the Kadhafi regime. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada recognised the rebel National Transitional Council as "the legitimate representative of the Libyan people going forward," as part of a new "enhanced engagement strategy". In so doing, Canada became the 14th nation to recognise the NTC after Australia, Britain, France, Gambia, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Malta, Qatar, Senegal, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. Ottawa's decision came as parliamentarians debated an extension of Canada's participation in NATO's efforts to protect Libyan civilians from forces loyal to Kadhafi. A popular uprising against the strongman that began in mid-February has left the oil-rich North African state split between the largely Kadhafi-controlled west and the rebel east. Libya's foreign ministry meanwhile said Monday's visit by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital, was a "flagrant violation" of Tripoli's sovereignty. It condemned the trip as "irresponsible" and said it "does not help efforts by regional and international organisations to find a peaceful solution to what is happening in Libya." During his visit to Benghazi, Westerwelle said Kadhafi "had lost all legitimacy" and announced Berlin's recognition of the NTC as the "legitimate representative" of the Libyan people. Rebels meanwhile said they suffered heavy losses in eastern Libya after being "tricked" by Khadafi's forces, amid a resurgence of fighting in the country after weeks of stalemate. On the eastern front line between the rebel-held transport hub Ajdabiya and the oil town of Brega, which is in the hands of Kadhafi's soldiers, a firefight on Monday left 21 rebel combatants dead, their commander told AFP.