Saturday, March 19, 2011

Russia rules out taking part as West mobilises for Libya attacks

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.

Despite a ceasefire announcement by Tripoli, Britain and France readied to launch operations after securing the UN Security Council's blessing and NATO agreed to speed up plans for a possible role for the 28-nation alliance.

In Washington President Barack Obama threatened Kadhafi with military action unless he met specific, "non-negotiable" demands for a ceasefire, a halt to attacks on civilians and a retreat from rebel strongholds.

Obama, who is sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a summit in Paris Saturday, said the world could not stand by because, if left unchecked, Kadhafi would commit atrocities in which thousands could die, adding that the Libyan strongman had been given "ample warning" to change his behaviour.

But Obama left unclear the exact role that Washington would play in military action against Libya, beyond enabling its European and Arab partners to "effectively" mount a no-fly zone to protect civilians.

He made clear, however, that there would be no US ground troops deployed to Libya, and repeatedly stressed that Washington would not act alone.

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.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said "everything is ready" to intervene in Libya, but he refused to give a timetable. The government's spokesman earlier said the strikes would come "within a few hours".

A "decisive" summit of European, African and Arab nations hosted by Paris on Saturday would examine Kadhafi's declared ceasefire, Juppe said. In Libya, rebels said the attacks were continuing.

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

Italy, a major trade partner of Tripoli which was once reluctant to sanction Kadhafi, offered the use of its air bases, seen as crucial for any action because of its strategic location across the Mediterranean from Libya.

Norway said it would take part in the operation and Denmark awaited parliamentary approval before joining the action with F-16 warplanes. Belgium offered to contribute F-16 jets and a warship to the effort.

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.

A Libyan rebel spokesman said the rebellion was coordinating with Western nations on the targets for air strikes.

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.

Not all European states were willing to take part in the military action, with Germany abstaining from voting for the UN Security Council resolution late Thursday.

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

Malta refused to grant the use of its bases while Poland said it would only provide logistical support. China, Australia and Russia have also indicated they will not take part in the operation.

For its part, the NATO military alliance is 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.

France has indicated that it would prefer if the alliance stayed out of Libya.

"We do not think it would be the right signal to send that NATO as such intervenes in an Arab nation," said foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

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