West, Arab nations mobilise for Libya air strikes

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A coalition of Western nations geared up Friday to launch air strikes on Libya after the UN approved military action to stop Moamer Kadhafi from crushing an insurgency.

As Tripoli announced a ceasefire, Britain and France prepared to scramble fighter jets against Kadhafi forces after securing the UN Security Council's blessing and NATO agreed to speed up plans for a possible role for the 28-nation alliance.

Amid warnings of imminent military action, Europe's air traffic agency banned civilian flights from Libyan air space while British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would take part in a joint mission with US and French forces, along with Arab support.

Britain will move Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets to bases near Libya in the "coming hours," Cameron said.

Britain has two frigates already in the Mediterranean and an airbase on Cyprus which could be used to launch attacks.

The strikes will come "rapidly... within a few hours," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said after the UN Security Council approved "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

The goal of the operation 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," Baroin told RTL radio.

The United States was expected to play a key role in the operation while Canada announced that it would deploy CF-18 fighter jets.

Italy, a major trade partner of Libya which was once reluctant to sanction Kadhafi, said it was ready to offer the use of its air bases for the mission.

Norway said it would take part in the operation and Denmark awaited parliamentary approval before joining the action with F-16 warplanes. Poland offered logistical support but no role in a military strike force.

The military intervention has won the backing of the Arab League, which had pressed the international community to impose a no-fly zone against Kadhafi's forces.

Qatar's foreign ministry said the Gulf state would "contribute in the efforts aiming at stopping bloodshed and protecting civilians in Libya" and urged quick action, the state news agency said.

France will host an emergency summit Saturday of the European Union, Arab League and African Union.

As the international community mobilised, the Kadhafi regime announced an immediate halt to military operations and a ceasefire. But the rebellion, which has been clamouring for foreign intervention, dismissed the announcement as a bluff.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero warned that the international community "will not be fooled" by the Libyan regime and will verify compliance with the UN resolution.

For its part, the NATO military alliance was still debating whether to take part in the operation as an organisation.

Ambassadors to the 28-nation military alliance agreed to speed up military planning but have yet to decide whether to participate in the international effort, a NATO official said.

NATO allies have been divided over Libya, with Germany and Turkey voicing opposition to a military intervention, while France has indicated that it would prefer action through a coalition of nations.

Belgium said it was ready to intervene under the NATO umbrella, with F-16 jets and a warship. Spain, whose Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the international community "will not be fooled" by Kadhafi, announced it would allow NATO to use two military bases and provide air and naval forces.

Germany was among five nations, alongside China and Russia, that abstained from voting for the UN resolution, which passed 10-0 late Thursday.

Warning of "considerable risks and dangers," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted no German troops would participate in military intervention.

China, Australia and Russia have also indicated they will not take part in the operation.

© 2011 AFP

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