FRANCE insisted last night that weapons it supplied to rebels fighting Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi were for “self-defence” — in line with a UN resolution — after Russia and China voiced concern.
“Civilians had been attacked by Gaddafi’s forces and were in an extremely vulnerable situation and that is why medicine, food and also weapons of self-defence were parachuted,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
“It is not a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions” under which France and other allies launched airstrikes and imposed embargoes to protect civilians from Gaddafi, he said, speaking on France Inter radio.
France’s military admitted delivering “light arms” including machine guns and rocket launchers while providing humanitarian aid in Libya but denied supplying anti-tank missiles.
Russia had demanded an explanation from France over the arms drops, while China urged nations involved in the Libyan conflict to stick to the UN mandate authorising military action.
UN Security Council Resolution 1970, passed in February, prohibited states from providing any kind of arms to Libya. Resolution 1973 in March authorised nations “to take all necessary measures” to help protect civilians.
Mr Juppe was due to hold talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow overnight. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Syria — another country embroiled in the co-called Arab Spring of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa — that time was running out for President Bashar al-Assad.
As activists prepared for nationwide “day of departure” protests last night — a day after pro-democracy protests spread to Syria’s second city, Aleppo — Mrs Clinton criticised the regime’s incoherence in authorising an opposition meeting this week while it continued to crack down on dissent.
“Allowing one meeting of the opposition in Damascus is not sufficient,” Mrs Clinton said in Lithuania. “I’m just hurt by recent reports of continuing violence on the border and in Aleppo, where demonstrators have been beaten, attacked with knives by government-organised groups and security forces. It is absolutely clear that the Syrian government is running out of time. There isn’t any question about that.”
Mrs Clinton’s comments came ahead of expected protests following a call from a Facebook group that has been a motor of the uprising for people to take to the streets across the nation overnight.
The Syrian Revolution 2011 group called on people to rally after weekly Muslim prayers, branding July 1 “the Friday of departure” and saying in a message to Mr Assad: “We don’t love you . . . Go away, you and your party.”
Hundreds of protesters who answered a call to turn out in Aleppo, a bastion of the government and Syria’s commercial hub, were beaten back by baton-wielding security forces, activists said yesterday. Elsewhere, about 60 tanks and armoured personnel carriers entered two villages in the countryside of Idlib province, said Rami Abdel Rahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
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