G8 ministers meet to discuss Libya no-fly zone

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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.

As forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moamer Khadhafi pushed their fierce assault against the rebels to the key town of Ajdabiya, the 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.

Clinton has said a no-fly zone plan would be presented to NATO on Tuesday.

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.

"In the coming week there could be surgical strikes on airports, and we could scramble Kadhafi's transmission systems," 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.

Their 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 on Monday or early Tuesday.

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 access to Libya's oil if Kadhafi's regime is deposed.

Lavrov said last week that Russia would give a fair hearing to proposals for a no-fly zone, saying Moscow's approval depended on how the system would work and on the humanitarian situation.

Kadhafi's forces have taken Brega, a key town, and are pushing closer to the main opposition-held city of Benghazi.

Among the rebel troops, only the defectors from Kadhafi's army have military experience. They have few heavy weapons and are vulnerable to air attack.

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.

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.

"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.

"It will be an opportunity to express their support for and faith in the Japanese government as well as their admiration for the Japanese people."

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 and Juppe would meet with Clinton at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT). Sarkozy then meets the other ministers before a working dinner hosted by Juppe.

A further meeting and news conferences are scheduled on Tuesday.

© 2011 AFP

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