Crowds of Benghazi protesters cheer UN resolution

CAIRO—Protesters against Moammar Gaddafi in the eastern city of Benghazi cheered and let off fireworks on Friday after a UN Security Council vote authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya, live footage showed.

A crowd of thousands fired guns in the air, set off fireworks and waved flags from the monarchy era in celebration, Al Jazeera television showed.  A top official of the rebels’ transitional national council, Ali al-Essawi, welcomed the resolution.

“We think that this resolution . . . will mark the end of the impunity and dictatorship of Gadhafi,” he said from Benghazi.  The Security Council voted to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” — code for military action — to protect civilians against leader Gadhafi’s forces.

“1,2,3, thank you Sarkozy!” the crowd chanted, with many waving French flags. “We have stopped his plans,” they chanted. “We will triumph.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been strongly urging his partners at the UN Security Council to back a resolution on a no-fly zone over Libya and was the first to recognize the rebel Libyan National Council.

Gaddafi told Libyan rebels earlier on Thursday that his armed forces were coming to their capital Benghazi later in the night and would not show any mercy to fighters who resisted them.

In a radio address, he told Benghazi residents that soldiers would search every house in the city.  “The matter has been decided . . . we are coming,” he said. “There is amnesty for those who throw away their weapons and sits in their house . . . No matter what they did in the past, (it’s) forgiven,” he said.  But for those who resist, he said, “there will be no mercy or compassion.”

Gadhafi says his forces would “rescue” the people of Benghazi from “traitors” and warned them not to stand alongside the opposition. “This is your happy day, we will destroy your enemies,” he said. “Prepare for this moment to get rid of the traitors. Don’t betray me, my beloved Benghazi.”  But the crowds remained defiant into the early hours of the night.

“Moammar, you liar. We are the men of the nation!” the crowds chanted.  “Moammar, you are surrounded. No ships and no planes will help you,” they said, some waving Egyptian flags. Gadhafi accused the rebels of having backing from Egyptian and Tunisian protesters, who have toppled their presidents and wanted to wreak instability in Libya.

In an interview broadcast just before the Security Council voted, Gadhafi dismissed its actions.  “The UN Security Council has no mandate. We don’t acknowledge their resolutions,” he told the Portuguese public Radiotelevisao Portuguesa.  He pledged to respond harshly to UN-sponsored attacks.

“If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too, he said.

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