Libya shuts air space in face of strikes

18th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Libya shut down its air space on Friday as Britain and France were expected to scramble fighter jets against Moamer Kadhafi's forces after they secured the UN Security Council's blessing.

Eurocontrol, the continent's air traffic agency, said Tripoli "does not accept traffic" until further notice, citing information from Maltese authorities, as France announced air strikes would be imminent.

Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam said Friday his family was "not afraid" as the Libyan foreign ministry said Tripoli was ready for a ceasefire but wanted to discuss its terms.

Meeting Thursday, the UN Security Council voted by 10-0 to permit "all necessary measures" to establish the no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Kadhafi's military.

Five countries on the 15-strong council abstained, including permanent members China and Russia, who did not use their veto power. India and Brazil also abstained in addition to Germany.

The main rebel bastion Benghazi erupted with fireworks and joyful gunfire 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 Kadhafi's forces were pounding the city on Friday 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."

Elsewhere, clashes were also reported in the western towns of Nalut and Zintan.

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.

French government spokesman Francois Baroin said Friday the strikes will come "rapidly... within a few hours."

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 Kadhafi regime."

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

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the resolution should send a strong message to Kadhafi "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 without elaborating.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said 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.

Turkey, a NATO member that had been opposed to intervention in Libya, emphasised the resolution was binding for all UN member countries as it called for an immediate ceasefire and end to the bloodshed.

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."

Kadhafi'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."

Celebrations in Benghazi, Libya's second city and stronghold of the month-long mainly eastern rebellion against Kadhafi'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 Kadhafi's control.

Kadhafi, 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 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, thousands of Shiites protested after Friday prayers in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, in defiance of martial law and a deadly crackdown by the strategic Gulf kingdom's security forces.


© 2011 AFP

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