UN imposes no-fly zone as Gaddafi threatens civilian jets
Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00
The UN Security Council voted last night to authorise a no-fly zone over Libya and "all necessary measures" - code for military action - to protect civilians against leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
The vote came just hours after Colonel Gaddafi threatened to launch retaliatory attacks against passenger aircraft in the Mediterranean if foreign countries launch air strikes against Libya.
Ten of the council's 15 member states voted in favour of the resolution, with Russia, China and Germany among the five that abstained. There were no votes against the resolution, which was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States.
Howver, the Libyan regime said that "any foreign military act" would expose "all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean sea" as targets for a counter attack.
Amid growing international concern over the deteriorating situation in Libya, the first bombing raids -- possibly conducted by unmanned drones -- could happen as early as today. Neighbouring Arab nations may take the lead in any military action.
The head of NATO said last night that "time is running out".
The United Nations met last night to discuss the plan -- as Col Gaddafi's troops massed on the outskirts of Benghazi, the coastal town which is the last stronghold of rebel fighters.
In a statement, the Libyan defence ministry warned of swift retaliation against foreign intervention.
"Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of Libya's counter-attack," it said.
In a radio address, Col Gaddafi also urged rebels in Benghazi to surrender, warning: "We are coming tonight. . . There won't be any mercy."
He said that every house in the city would be searched.
In Benghazi, a large crowd watching the UN vote on an outdoor TV projection burst into celebration after the result was announced, with green and red fireworks exploding in the air.
However, the celebrations soon ended as the assault on the city began around midnight when the first explosions were heard along with anti-aircraft fire.
The escalating crisis in Libya led to a renewed focus on the country last night amid criticism that US President Barack Obama had been lacklustre in co-ordinating international action.
The UN Security Council resolution called for the authorisation of a no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" to protect civilians under threat. The wording would allow air strikes in defence of Benghazi.
However, the resolution ruled out any "occupation force". It would authorise Arab states, in co-operation with the UN, to protect Libyan areas, including Benghazi, which were coming under attack. (© Daily Telegraph, London)