G8 ministers meet on Libya no-fly zone

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The Group of Eight powers gathered in Paris on Monday to thrash out a common line on possible intervention to ground the warplanes pounding Libya's rebels.

The G8 ministers were also to discuss Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which have raised fears of a nuclear disaster after damage to a power plant, as well as economic concerns.

In Libya, as forces loyal to strongman Moamer Khadhafi pushed their fierce assault against the rebels to the key town of Ajdabiya, the world's eight powers were seeking a common front, with host France pushing for a no-fly zone over Libya.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe vowed to step up efforts to get approval for the measure, which is backed by the 22-nation Arab League, considered crucial for dealing with the region.

But Britain and France, which are drafting a resolution for the UN Security Council, failed last week to convince their European Union partners to back the move, and the United States and Russia are also lukewarm.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Paris to sit down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and their counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

China, the only veto-wielding member of the Security Council not represented at the Paris G8 talks, is opposed to a no-fly zone.

France has also proposed targeted bombings against Kadhafi if he attacks his own people.

"If we have a UN mandate, given that we already have the agreement of the Arab League, we can be operational very quickly," a French government source who asked not to be named told AFP.

In Libya, the poorly equipped rebel forces have been gradually beaten back by forces loyal to Kadhafi, routed from several towns by shelling and airstrikes.

"The longer people wait, the bigger the commitment will have to be" if and when the international community decides to step in, said Jean-Pierre Maulny, an analyst at the French strategic studies institute IRIS.

He added that the United States was wary of getting involved militarily in another country after its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Libyan opposition national council's representative Mahmoud Jibril and his delegation have been seeking formal support abroad. A US official said Clinton would meet with them in Paris during her visit.

France has formally recognised the council as Libya's legitimate representatives. The European Union has agreed to talk to them but has so far stopped short of full recognition.

The leader of the council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was quoted by the Financial Times on Monday as saying that countries not supporting the uprising would miss out on Libya's oil if Kadhafi's regime is deposed.

In a no-fly zone, US and NATO warplanes would ground Kadhafi's air power in order to protect civilians and the opposition, but hundreds of planes would likely be needed to police the skies over Libya's vast territory.

Japan's new foreign minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, was due to meet separately with Clinton, Lavrov and Juppe, an official in the Japanese delegation said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said he met with Clinton at 5:00 pm (1900 GMT). Sarkozy will then meet the other ministers before a working dinner hosted by Juppe.

A further meeting and news conferences are scheduled for Tuesday.

"The ministers will begin their work looking at the consequences of the unprecedented natural catastrophe that has just hit Japan," ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists, referring to Friday's massive earthquake.

He said that Matsumoto would help the G8 "better define their activities in the short, but also the medium and long term, to help Japan overcome this ordeal."

© 2011 AFP

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