Gaddafi blitz ups pressure on NATO to enforce no-fly zone
NATO will today discuss imposing a no-fly zone over Libya in the absence of a United Nations resolution as air strikes against rebels yesterday highlighted the need for urgent action.
Col Muammar Gaddafi dispatched envoys in a last-ditch attempt to head off military action against him. It is believed he is hoping to foil attempts by America and Britain to sign NATO up to a "full spectrum" of action -- including a no-fly zone -- by exploiting Western divisions and rallying Arab support.
Col Gaddafi warned the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace would meet with armed resistance and be seen as proof that Western powers were trying to steal his country's oil.
A senior American official refused to rule out enforcing a NATO no-fly zone in the absence of a UN resolution ahead of a meeting of the alliance's defence ministers in Brussels today.
Pressure to take action grew after Libyan rebels, hit by repeated government shelling and air strikes, retreated back to the oil town of Ras Lanuf.
A series of explosions were reported at oil pipeline facilities. Tank units loyal to Col Gaddafi also closed in on the main square of rebel-held Zawiyah.
Rebel medics said at least 400 people had died and 2,000 had been wounded in eastern Libya since the uprising started.
Italy, Col Gaddafi's closest European ally, last night demanded "breathing space" for the regime from international intervention after the Libyan leader sent envoys in private jets to the EU and Cairo.
"Two aircraft of the Libyan regime appear to have left Libya with the intention of enabling emissaries of Gaddafi to meet representatives taking part in the meetings of the EU and NATO tomorrow and the next day," Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister said.
Mr Frattini argued the new initiative meant that NATO and the EU should not take "premature" action against Col Gaddafi until diplomacy had been exhausted.
Diplomats and officials denied the Italian "speculation" that a Libyan envoy was headed to Brussels for EU talks but confirmed an aircraft was carrying a "moderate member" of Col Gaddafi's regime to meet Luis Amado, the Portuguese foreign minister, in Lisbon.
Mr Amado will attend the emergency meeting of the EU's 27 foreign ministers, a gathering that coincides with the NATO defence meeting and comes a day ahead of a summit of European leaders in Brussels. Two members of Libya's rebel leadership visited Brussels yesterday and asked the EU to recognise the legitimacy of an alternate ruling body in the country.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet two representatives of the rebel Libyan Interim Transitional National Council in Paris today.
Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to the UN and one of the first Libyan diplomats to defect from the Gaddafi regime, said a UN resolution was ready.
"Everything is set as a resolution, but there are some countries which still need some more discussion to convince their governments," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)