British PM says Libya assault not aimed at regime change

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British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday there was no legal authority for regime change in Libya despite suggestions by ministers that air strikes could target Moamer Kadhafi.

"Our view is clear -- there is no decent future for Libya with Colonel Kadhafi remaining in power," Cameron told the House of Commons during its first debate since international forces launched air and sea strikes in Libya.

But he said the United Nations Security Council resolution that gave the forces their mandate was "limited in its scope" to include the implementation of a ceasefire and no-fly zones to protect Libyan civilians.

"It explicitly does not provide the legal authority for action to bring about Kadhafi's removal of power by military means," Cameron said.

Lawmakers were expected to strongly back military action in a vote later Monday, after a second night of British attacks by fighter jets and a submarine in the Mediterranean alongside French and US forces.

Kadhafi's complex in Tripoli was bombed overnight in raids by Western forces, which included British missiles launched from a submarine. US officials said they did not currently know his whereabouts.

Nearby, about 200 supporters of Kadhafi staged a demonstration outside Cameron's Downing Street office, brandishing the Libyan leader's green flag and holding up placards reading "Stop bombing our families and children".

Cameron has the support of his Conservative party and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners for military action, as well as the opposition Labour party.

But he has faced questions about the aims of the strikes, after the defence minister suggested Kadhafi himself would be a legitimate target, and fears that Britain could be drawn into a ground war similar to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Sunday that there was a "possibility" that British forces could target Kadhafi and Foreign Secretary William Hague refused to rule it out Monday, saying "that depends on the circumstances at the time".

But the head of the British military, General David Richards, said Kadhafi was "absolutely not" a target and UN resolution did not allow it, adding his voice to those of US and French officials -- and now Cameron's.

Acutely aware of the controversy caused by Britain's six-year war in Iraq, the prime minister repeated his argument that his first military action since taking office in May last year was "necessary, legal and right".

He said Kadhafi had failed to adhere to the UN's demand for a ceasefire in his assault on rebels, and coalition strikes "have helped to avert what could have been a bloody massacre in Benghazi".

They had "have largely neutralised Libyan air defences and as a result a no-fly zone has effectively been put in place", he added.

Cameron also addressed concerns about the lack of Arab involvement in the first wave of air strikes and criticism from the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, despite the organisation's support for the UN resolution.

He spoke to Mussa earlier Monday and believed they were "on the same page" on Libya, his spokesman said.

In parliament, Cameron said: "The Qataris are producing a number of jets to help enforce the no-fly zone and we'll be doing everything we can to encourage others to come forward."

In the debate, Cameron also addressed concerns that Britain will be drawn into a lengthy ground war such as Iraq -- particularly when the country is still fighting a bloody battle against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

"It's easy to get into a war. It's much harder to end it," said Dennis Skinner, a left-wing lawmaker from the Labour party.

Cameron said the UN resolution explicitly excluded a foreign occupation of Libya and said: "This is different to Iraq... This is about protecting people, giving the Libyan people a chance to shape their own destiny."

© 2011 AFP

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