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21st Jan 2019

Sarkozy warns Arab rulers about Libya precedent

  • Sarkozy (c) in Brussels on Thursday. The hawkish rhetoric comes ahead of French presidential elections next year (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned all Arab rulers that they risk Libya-type intervention if they cross a certain line of violence against their own people.

The president told press at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (24 March) that UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorising air strikes on Libya has created a legal and political precedent on the "responsibility to protect."

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Referring to deadly violence in Syria, he explained: "Every ruler should understand, and especially every Arab ruler should understand that the reaction of the international community and of Europe will from this moment on each time be the same: we will be on the side of peaceful protesters who must not be repressed with violence."

Sarkozy indicated that he is ready to tolerate a certain level of violence, but that any country which orders its army to open fire on crowds will cross a red line.

"In any democracy there can be demonstrations which can turn violent. But no democracy can accept that the army shoots live ammunition at protesters. This is the position of France and it does not change no matter what the country concerned."

He drew a difference between Egypt, Tunisia and even Yemen, where dozens have been killed but where the armed forces have begun to defect, versus Libya, where Colonel Gaddafi's tanks and planes have waged open war on rebels.

He suggested that the Ivory Coast, where President Laurent Gbago's forces recently fired a heavy artillery shell into a market square, will be next in line for a UN vote on intervention.

Sarkozy noted the political sensitivity of Western military action in the Arab world.

He said that there is a new post-UNSC 1973 model of "world governance. But he added that it can only work if Libya coalition powers "precisely ... rigorously ... scrupulously" stick to the UN mandate to protect civilians instead of playing God on who should take power after Gaddafi.

Recalling the "extremely moving" scenes of Libyan rebels in Benghazi celebrating the arrival of French warplanes and the "extreme importance" of the United Arab Emirates' and Qatari involvement in the coalition, he called Libya a "historic opportunity" for "reconciliation between the two worlds."

"What's at play here is Europe as a political force, with a military means serving its political ambitions, and its relations with the Arab world," the French leader went on. "It's a moment of extreme importance for the political future of Europe and for the future of relations between Europe and the Arab people."

The hawkish speech comes amid criticism of EU "double standards" on tolerating violence in strategically important countries such as Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Palestinian diplomats have also pointed out the EU did nothing when Israeli jets bombed civilians in Gaza in 2009.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad earlier on Thursday put forward a package of political reforms designed to soothe tensions and pulled back troops from the hotspot town of Daraa near the Jordanian border.

More protests are expected after prayers on Friday however, with one Arab commentator describing the al-Assad reforms as "essentially transforming Ba'athist Syria into [pre-revolutionary] NDP Egypt."

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