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Sarkozy calls for air strikes on Libya
Brussels/Moscow, Mar 11 (Agencies):
Published on 12 Mar. 2011 1:30 AM IST
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Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime if his forces use chemical weapons or launch air strikes against civilians.
As the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives in Libya, the French president told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes may soon be justified.
“The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters,” Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya “because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs”. Sarkozy said he had won the support of David Cameron for his plan which would have to be approved by the UN, Arab states and Libyan opposition groups.
Downing Street sources declined to be drawn on his remarks. But Sarkozy appears to have set out the key events – use of chemical weapons or air strikes against civilians – that would give legal cover for military action.
In a joint letter issued on the eve of Friday’s summit, Sarkozy and Cameron warned that Gaddafi might be guilty of crimes against humanity. This could give Britain and France the necessary legal cover under the Geneva conventions for a no-fly zone or targeted air strikes. The tough rhetoric from Sarkoy came as Cameron faced his first major public confrontation with Ashton as she used the EU emergency summit to dismiss Anglo-French calls for a no-fly zone over Libya.
Emboldened by unease among Nato members for the proposal, Ashton has been telling the EU’s 27 leaders that a no-fly zone would be highly risky and could end up killing large numbers of civilians. One EU diplomat said: “The risks are high for potential civilian casualties and potential collateral damage. The efficiency of a no-fly zone is very questionable. Apart from anything else, European command and control facilities would not be able to get a no-fly zone up and running in less than five or six weeks, and Nato is suggesting it would take at least three to four weeks. “The question is whether, in political terms, a no-fly zone can achieve what you want it to achieve.”
Downing Street declined to be drawn on Ashton’s decision to set herself so forcefully against one of Cameron’s central proposals for responding to the Libyan crisis. One British source said: “We proposed planning for a no-fly zone so early because it will take some time. That work has not been completed.”
Ashton will argue that it is her role to act as the voice of all 27 EU member states. Cameron and Sarzkoy, who were the driving forces behind the emergency summit, appear to be ahead of most leaders. As he arrived at the summit Cameron said Europe must seize the moment to send a clear signal to Gaddafi that his behaviour was unacceptable and that he must stand down.
The prime minister said: “It’s important that the countries of Europe show political will, show ambition and show unity in being clear that Colonel Gaddafi must go, that his regime is illegitimate and what he is doing to his people is completely unacceptable.
“We are going to step up today in the European council measures to isolate that regime and measures to put pressure on that regime and we should also plan for every eventuality as I’ve been arguing now for around two weeks. This is absolutely vital work.
“But at the same time I think it is the moment for Europe to understand we should show real ambition about recognising that what’s happening in north Africa is a democratic awakening and we should be encouraging these countries down a democratic path.
“It’s a moment for Europe to say what we’ve done in the past hasn’t always worked. Now we should be reaching out to these countries, offering them a new partnership, opening up our markets and welcoming their approach of greater democracy, greater freedom, greater human rights. This is a potentially good moment for our world and we should grab it and seize it and try and shape it.”
British officials were playing down prospects of a major breakthrough at the summit. The main focus will be to toughen the arms embargo against Libya and co-ordinate European efforts if a humanitarian disaster is declared in Libya. Britain is also pressing for a reform of the EU’s £1bn “neighbourhood policy” which provides support to countries in north Africa and the Middle East.
Rebels flee under heavy attack from Libyan forces
PTI Adds: Reeling under a sustained land, sea and air assault by Libyan forces, rebels today fled from the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf, with the leader of opposition National Council asking the West to impose a flight and naval blockade on his country claiming that people are being “cleansed” by the regime.
68-year-old Muammar Gaddafi’s forces launched a large-scale offensive in another oil-producing town of Brega as well, unleashing aerial raids. Rebel forces retreated from Ras Lanuf, although some reports claimed that they retained control of the residential parts of the town.
There was a sustained aerial, artillery and mortar bombardment, Al-Jazeera reported. While many opposition fighters had now left the town, a “hard core” was going back to fight, the report said. Rebels in another eastern city of Benghazi feel the tide “may be reversing”, and that there is a “realisation that this is going to be a long, long uprising,” it said.
“We are outgunned and are facing cleansing from Gaddafi’s forces,” Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the rebel council in Libya told BBC as Gaddafi’s forces stormed and captured Zawiyah in the West and Ras Lanuf in the East after bloody battles. Just days ago, rebels were boldly promising to march towards Gaddafi’s hometown of Surt and Tripoli.
But this week they suffered a series of setbacks and a reversal of fortunes in key towns.
Gaddafi’s loyalists were also advancing in a wide arc towards other rebel-held areas in a counter-offensive that has reversed the opposition’s advance towards his bastion of Tripoli.
“We asked for a no-fly zone to be imposed from day one. We ask the international community to shoulder their responsibilities. We also want a sea embargo and we urgently need some arms and we also need humanitarian assistance and medicines to be sent to the cities besieged by Gaddafi’s troops,” Jalil said from his headquarters in the eastern Libya.
Commending France for its decision to recognise his National Council, the Libyan opposition leader asked other nations to follow the lead. “The most effective recognition would be from United States, the UK and Germany, but we also need support of all countries,” he said. The Libyan opposition leaders clamour for help from western countries came as Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam claimed that victory was in sight and that his forces were poised to uproot the rebels from all areas.
“We’re coming,” Gaddafi’s son declared and referred to people in the eastern part of the country as being held “hostage by the traitors”.
Al-Jazeera said hundreds of rebels and cars and trucks mounted with machine guns were speeding eastwards on the Mediterranean coastal road in a seemingly disorganised flight from Ras Lanuf.

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