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23rd Jan 2021

UN clears France and UK to strike Gaddafi

The UN Security Council has given France and the UK a broad mandate for military strikes against Colonel Gaddafi despite German warnings of "great risks" and a "protracted conflict."

UN ambassadors approved Resolution 1973 late on Thursday (17 March) in New York by 10 votes in favour and five abstentions, by Germany, Brazil, China, India and Russia.

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The resolution "demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire" and authorises council members to "to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."

It also "decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" except humanitarian aid flights and to forbid Libyan-registered planes from landing in or using the airspace of UN countries unless pre-agreed.

French foreign minister Alain Juppe indicated that targeted strikes against Gaddafi could come as early as Friday. "We have very little time left. It's a matter of days. It's perhaps a matter of hours. We should not arrive too late," he told the meeting.

British foreign minister William Hague said: "It is necessary to take these measures to avoid greater bloodshed."

Canada and Norway immediately pledged military assets. The US kept a low profile. "The future of Libya should be decided by the people of Libya. The US stands by the Libyan people," said American UN ambassador Susan Rice.

For their part, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton endorsed the move on behalf of the Union.

"We welcome Resolution 1973 approved tonight by the United Nations Security Council ... The European Union is ready to implement this resolution within is mandate and competences," they said in a joint statement, despite Ms Ashton's previous opposition to military action and despite divisions within the bloc.

The German ambassador in New York, Peter Wittig, issued a dire warning and said Germany will not contribute resources.

"We see great risks. The likelihood of large-scale loss of life should not be underestimated," he told the council meeting. "If the steps proposed turn out to be ineffective, we see the danger of being drawn into a protracted military conflict that would affect the wider region. We should not enter a military confrontation on the optimistic assumption that quick results with few casualties will be achieved."

Libya's Mediterranean Sea neighbour, Italy, in the run-up to Thursday's vote voiced similar objections.

The first Gaddafi reaction came from Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim. "We are very grateful for the five countries that abstained ... And Germany - what a surprise," he said in Tripoli, according to Al Jazeera.

Colonel Gaddafi earlier on Thursday launched air strikes against the rebel stronghold in Benghazi, vowing to destroy opposition forces and to retaliate against outside intervention.

Military experts say his air force poses no risk to British and French pilots but shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and mobile anti-aircraft artillery could hit jets below 15,000 feet.

A French specialist on security issues said Gaddafi's recent threats to launch new terrorist strikes against Europe are a bluff.

"The terrorist attacks [of the 1980s] came in the framework of the Cold War, of the big name between Nato and Warsaw Pact countries," the contact explained. "Today it is unreasonable politically-speaking without a big guy behind him, like the USSR, to use these tactics again. Gaddafi is everything except a fool."

He added that Gaddafi may have scud missiles capable of hitting the Italian island of Lampedusa, however.

Following the UN decision, Al Jazeera broadcast footage of crowds in Benghazi greeting the news by shooting in the air, waving flags and setting off fireworks.

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