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Friday, March 18, 2011

UN authorizes no-fly zone over Libya

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council cleared the legal path for international air strikes on Moammar Gadhafi's forces by authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya and "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from attacks by his advancing forces.

The Thursday night vote was 10-0 with five countries abstaining including Russia and China, which have veto power in the council. India, Germany and Brazil also expressed misgivings about approving military action by outside forces.

The United States, France and Britain indicated they were quickly making plans to prevent attacks on civilians and enforce a no-fly zone in Libya with the help of Arab countries.

President Barack Obama telephoned the leaders of Britain and France after the vote, the White House said. U.S. officials speaking after a closed-door briefing in Congress said the attempt to ground Gadhafi's air force could begin by Sunday or Monday with the use of jet fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft.

"Given the critical situation on the ground, I expect immediate action on the resolution's provisions," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the vote. He pledged to "work closely with member states and regional organizations to coordinate a common, effective and timely response."

The United States, France and Britain pushed for rapid approval of the resolution as Gadhafi's forces advanced toward opposition-held Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city. The Libyan leader warned Thursday night he would launch a final assault on Benghazi and oust the rebels from their eastern stronghold.

The vote came five days after the Arab League called on the United Nations to "shoulder its responsibility" by imposing a flight ban over Libya. Speaking for Arab nations Thursday, Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam said he hoped the move would "play a deterrent role so that Libyan authorities will move away from the logic of violence."

Libya's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, whose support for the opposition inspired spurred many Libyan diplomats around the world to demand Gadhafi's ouster, called on the world to respond "immediately."

"The lives of the civilians are in danger right now and I expect the international community to move quickly," he said.

U.S Ambassador Susan Rice said the resolution "should send a strong message to Colonel Qadhafi and his regime 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."

The resolution establishes "a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians." It also authorizes U.N. member states to take "all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."

Supporters of the resolution said authorization for "all necessary measures" provides a legal basis for countries to carry out air strikes to protect civilians from Gadhafi's forces.

British British Foreign Secretary William Hague said all three criteria for taking action _ demonstrable need, clear legal basis and broad regional support _ had now been fulfilled. "This places a responsibility on members of the United Nations and that is a responsibility to with the United Kingdom will now respond," Hague said.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told France-2 Television that if the resolution was approved France would support military action against Gadhafi within a matter of hours.

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe traveled to New York for the vote, urging council members to adopt the resolution because the sanctions they adopted on Feb. 26 had been ignored.

"We cannot allow these warmongers to go on," Juppe said. "We cannot let international law and morality be flouted."

The United States joined the resolution's initial supporters _ Britain, France and Lebanon _ not only in pushing for a speedy vote but also in pressing for action beyond creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from air, land and sea attacks by Gadhafi's fighters.

It was an abrupt switch by the Obama administration following weeks of hesitation amid worries that the United States could get sucked into another war in a Muslim nation.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Tunisia on Thursday that a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya would require action to protect the planes and pilots, "including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems," but no ground intervention is considered.

Explaining his abstention on the vote, Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said his country backed increased sanctions against Libya in an effort to force Gadhafi from power, but "we see the danger of being drawn into a protracted military conflict that would affect the wider region."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose government also had misgivings, proposed Wednesday that the council vote first on a resolution calling for a cease-fire. While that proposal was rejected, a paragraph was added to the final resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire "and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians."AP

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