Friday, March 18, 2011

Military action against Libya within hours of UN vote: France

BENGHAZI: France said Friday military action against Libya would come "within hours", as a UN vote approving air strikes was celebrated by rebels and Muammar Gaddafi's son said his family was "not afraid."

The strikes will come "rapidly... within a few hours," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said after the UN Security Council on Thursday cleared the way for air raids to protect civilians from Gaddafi's advancing forces.

Baroin said the goal of the military action would be to "protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Gaddafi regime."

So far Britain, France, the United States, Norway and Qatar are among the countries that have said they will help to enforce the no-fly zone, while China, Germany, Poland, Australia and Russia have indicated they will not.

NATO said it will discuss Friday what role the alliance may take.

The main rebel bastion Benghazi erupted with fireworks and joyful gunfire late on Thursday after news spread of the passing of the UN resolution, which approves "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and pressure the veteran Libyan leader into accepting a ceasefire.

But rebels in Misrata, a rebel bastion 210 kilometres (130 miles) east of Tripoli, said on Friday that Gaddafi's forces were pounding the city after a night of heavy gunfire.

"Dozens of bombs of all sorts have fallen on the city since last night," the spokesman told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding the bombing was "still intense."

Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam on Friday said his family was "not afraid" but warned foreign air strikes would kill civilians.

"We are in our country and with our people. And we are not afraid," Seif al-Islam told ABC News Nightline from Tripoli.

"We will not be afraid. Come on! We will not be afraid. I mean, you are not helping the people if you are going to bomb Libya, to kill Libyans. You destroy our country. Nobody is happy with that."

The UN vote passed 10-0 with five abstentions -- permanent members China and Russia, who did not wield their vetoes, plus Germany, Brazil and India.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the resolution should send a strong message to Gaddafi "that the violence must stop, the killing must stop, and the people of Libya must be protected and have the opportunity to express themselves freely."

In a note of caution, Germany said it remains "eminently sceptical on the option of military intervention... anticipated in this resolution."

"We see in it considerable risks and dangers. That is why we could not approve this part of the text," a statement by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

"German soldiers will not take part in a military intervention in Libya."

China, too, said it had serious concerns, despite choosing not to use its veto.

"We oppose the use of military force in international relations, and have serious reservations about some of the content of the resolution," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement on Friday, without elaborating on the concerns.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said on Friday he hoped the UN resolution was not too late.

"Let us all hope and pray that this final resolve of the international community is not too late for the people of Libya," he said.

Late Thursday, the defence ministry in Tripoli warned "any military operation against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean to danger."

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim immediately after the UN resolution was passed said Libya was ready for a ceasefire but wanted to discuss its terms.

He told reporters in Tripoli the regime would "react positively to the UN resolution, and we will prove this willingness while guaranteeing protection to civilians."

Celebrations in Benghazi, Libya's second city and stronghold of the month-long mainly eastern rebellion against Gaddafi's iron-fisted four-decade rule, carried on through the night.

Preachers in mosques across the Mediterranean city used loudspeakers to shout "God is greatest, God is greatest."

Tracer bullets and anti-aircraft fire ripped through the night sky, punctuated by the blaring of car horns.

Hussein Madani, a 48-year-old engineer in Benghazi's central square, welcomed the UN decision.

"We needed the no-fly zone, but more than that we need to bomb Tripoli, Sirte and Sabha because that's where most of the Libyan army infrastructure is," he said of towns under Gaddafi's control.

Gaddafi, in a broadcast before the vote, had warned his forces would attack Benghazi on Thursday night and show "no mercy."

"We will chase the traitors from Benghazi," he said, addressing his troops. "Destroy their fortifications. Show them no mercy. The world needs to see Benghazi free."

US President Barack Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday to discuss strategy.

"The leaders agreed that Libya must immediately comply with all terms of the resolution and that violence against the civilian population of Libya must cease," the White House said in a statement.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Shiite-led opposition in Sunni-ruled Bahrain vowed to press on with "peaceful" pro-democracy demonstrations, calling for protests after weekly prayers on Friday and sit-ins on Saturday.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned Bahrain on Thursday that its deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters might be breaking international law after his human rights chief spoke of "shocking and illegal" abuses.

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