Obama calls allies to plan Libya action

BARACK Obama has called the leaders of France and Britain to coordinate Libya strategy after the UN Security Council backed military action against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

The council meeting voted to permit “all necessary measures” to impose a no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Gaddafi’s military.

The US President’s move came amid calls for immediate enforcement of the no-fly zone “before it is too late” for civilians.  The European Union welcomed the UN resolution and the head of the European Parliament said “there was no time to waste” to enforce it.  And leading American senators John McCain, John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman urged swift implementation of the measures.

“With Gaddafi’s forces moving towards Benghazi, we must immediately work with our friends in the Arab League and in NATO to enforce this resolution and turn the tide before it is too late,” the senators from rival parties said in a joint statement.  Diplomats indicated that air strikes from a coalition led by Britain, France and the US could be imminent as Gaddafi’s troops close in on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Enforcement will rely on air power as the resolution rules out sending ground troops.  But no German troops would take part, as there were “considerable risks and dangers”, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, after Berlin abstained in a UN vote to impose a no-fly zone.

Celebratory gunfire immediately rang out across Libya’s main rebel-held city of Benghazi. Tracer bullets streaked across the night sky as preachers at mosques shouted “God is greatest!” over loudspeakers.

Mr Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron after the passage of a resolution authorising measures to impose a no-fly zone, protect civilians and impose a ceasefire on Gaddafi’s military.

“The leaders agreed that Libya must immediately comply with all terms of the resolution and that violence against the civilian population of Libya must cease,” the White House said in a statement.

“The leaders agreed to coordinate closely on next steps, and to continue working with Arab and other international partners to ensure the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions on Libya.”  Libya said the UN action “threatens the unity” of the country. Earlier, Gaddafi had vowed that his troops would take Benghazi within hours.

His defence ministry, meanwhile, warned that foreign assaults on Libya would trigger retaliation putting “all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean” in danger.  Around Benghazi the UN promise to come to the rebels’ rescue sparked joyful celebrations.

Cars flooded into the streets, honking their horns and waving the rebels’ black-red-green flag to celebrate the vote which people in the city hope could swing the balance in their favour and halt Kadhafi’s eastward advance.  Benghazi rebel leaders ordered fighters to man artillery and missile batteries against the expected onslaught by government forces.

However, CNN reported that one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, had announced a change in tactics following the UN vote and would take up positions around the stronghold instead of attacking.  The UN vote passed 10-0 with five abstentions in the 15-member council. Permanent members China and Russia were among those abstaining, but did not use their veto power.

Immediately after the UN announcement Libya said it was ready for a ceasefire with the rebels but wanted to discuss how it would be implemented.  Julia Gillard said Australia welcomed the imposition of a no-fly zone as an important measure to stop Gaddafi attacking his people.  French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said if the resolution was approved, France would support military action against Gaddafi within hours. The US said it was preparing for action.

At least one US navy cruise missile submarine is in the Mediterranean along with two American assault ships and three destroyers.  After weeks of hesitating, US officials said that Washington was ready to lead any military intervention that did not involve ground troops to safeguard civilian life.”We are acting with a great sense of urgency to protect Libyan civilians,” Barack Obama’s spokesman said.

The resolution, drawn up by Britain, France and Lebanon and with strong US input, specifically excludes “an occupation force” in Libya. And it calls on Arab nations to “cooperate” in the action.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will join international forces set to bomb Gaddafi’s forces, a UN diplomat said earlier today.  “There will be participation by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. That has been confirmed at the Security Council,” the diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said just ahead of the council’s vote this morning on authorising force.

The head of the Arab League delegation to the UN, Yahya Mahmassani, said the two countries might take part in raids, but that he could not confirm this.

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