Sarkozy defends Libya campaign in wake of criticism

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President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday shrugged off criticism of the NATO-led campaign in Libya, saying the Western alliance should stay put until Moamer Kadhafi departs.

As some alliance members pull out due to lack of assets, and NATO faces flak over the first civilian casualties in its three-month campaign, Sarkozy instead said at the close of a European Union summit that the campaign was making steady progress.

While sceptics had feared the campaign would get bogged down in the face of a counter-offensive by Kadhafi loyalists, "everyone can see Kadhafi's forces are retreating everywhere," he told a news conference.

"There is a general uprising of the population," he added. "There is progress."

"We will continue until Kadhafi's departure."

Meanwhile Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose foreign minister urged a halt in hostilities after NATO strikes last weekend claimed civilian lives, echoed that the campaign was squeezing Kadhafi's grip on power.

"Kadhafi is increasingly isolated," Berlusconi said. "He has been abandoned. No one can risk a forecast as to when he will leave power."

Amid mounting questions as to how the campaign will last and how much it might cost, Sarkozy said "the reason we're not moving faster is that we don't want mistakes."

Just days after NATO admitted misfires which Tripoli says caused several deaths, including toddlers, Sarkozy said: "If we hadn't intervened there would be tens of thousands of deaths."

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini this week called for a suspension in the campaign in the latest sign of dissent within NATO as Kadhafi shows no signs of quitting.

"We have seen the effects of the crisis and therefore also of NATO action not only in eastern and southwestern regions but also in Tripoli," Frattini told a parliamentary committee meeting.

"I believe an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities is required in order to create effective humanitarian corridors," while negotiations should also continue on a more formal ceasefire and peace talks, he said.

Frattini warned there were "extremely grave humanitarian needs in many parts of the country" including cities in the west of Libya and said that a pause in the fighting should be "indicated as a feasible solution".

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance had conducted over 5,000 sorties. "As our record shows we have taken utmost care to minimise the risk of civilian casualties and we continue to do that every day and every hour."

© 2011 AFP

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