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Britain, France ready to move quickly on Libya

After the UN Security Council approved a resolution for a no-fly zone over Libya, NATO is scrambling to implement it as quickly as possible. But time could be running out for the Libyan rebels.

The US and UK ambassadors to the UN vote for the resolution

The UN Security Council gave the go-ahead for action against Libya

NATO envoys are considering ways to enforce a UN resolution authorizing the no fly-zone to protect civilians under attack by government forces in Libya.

A diplomat said Friday that ambassadors are "meeting all the time" to review the situation.

The Security Council, meeting in emergency session Thursday, passed a resolution backed by the US, Britain and France endorsing a no-fly zone to halt government troops now around 100 km (60 miles) from Benghazi. It also authorized "all necessary measures" - code for military action - to protect civilians against Gaddafi's forces.

Last week, NATO's defense ministers agreed that the alliance would act only with a clear legal mandate and strong regional support.

Aircraft flying from NATO bases in Sigonella, Sicily, Aviano in northern Italy, and a US carrier in the Mediterranean could enforce the no-fly zone.

Air strikes within hours

France, the strongest proponent for military action, said military operations against Libya could begin in a matter of hours, government spokesman Francois Baroin said on Friday.

"The French, who led the calls (for action), will of course be consistent with military intervention," Baroin told RTL radio. "The strikes will take place quickly."

Asked to specify what that meant, he said France would "participate" in operations and stressed the action would be to aid a rebel uprising and would not mean an occupation of the North African oil producer.

Addressing Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said British fighter jets and surveillance aircraft would be deployed "in the coming hours" to help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

"Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can start to take the necessary action," he said.

He added that he would be holding a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Arab leaders in Paris on Saturday.

The no-fly zone authorization passed 10-0 in the UN Security Council, with Germany abstaining along with China, Russia, Brazil and India. France was credited with mounting a strong push for passage.

NATO headquarters in Brussels

NATO is readying for military action

The EU welcomed the no-fly authorization as a "clear legal basis" for members of the international community to "provide protection to the civilian population."

Berlin on the sidelines

Meanwhile, more nations have offered to participate in the enforcement of the UN resolution.

With the US, assisted by France and Britain, expected to take the lead role in a military operation, Norway and Denmark said Friday they were prepared to contribute to the no-fly zone operation approved by the UN Security Council.

Norwegian Defense Minister Grete Faremo and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said Oslo was analyzing its contribution with other NATO allies. The Norwegian contribution could comprise F-16 fighter jets or transport planes as part of a humanitarian operation.

In Copenhagen, Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said the government was ready to act "speedily" in order to get approval from parliament for a Danish contribution of F-16 fighter jets, she told news agency Ritzau.

German troops will not take part in any military intervention in Libya as there are "considerable risks and dangers," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Friday, after Berlin abstained in the UN vote to impose a no-fly zone.

"We remain eminently skeptical on the option of military intervention... anticipated in this resolution. We see in it considerable risks and dangers. That is why we could not approve this part of the text," a statement said.

Westerwelle underscored that Berlin's stand on Moammar Gadhafi remained unchanged.

"The dictator must immediately stop all violence against his people. He must leave power and suffer the consequences of his crimes," Westerwelle said.

Rebel bombardment continues

On the ground in Libya, forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi bombarded the rebel-held town of Misrata in western Libya on Friday with heavy weapons, Al Arabiya satellite television reported.

Rebels flee during bombing of their positions by the Libyan air force

Libyan have been pushed back by Gadhafi troops

"The bombardment started about two or three hours ago, and has continued until now," Saadoun al-Misrati, a member of an anti-Gaddafi movement, told Al Arabiya, saying Libyan forces were using tanks and heavy artillery targeting civilians.

Al Arabiya also said there were an unspecified number of killed and wounded in the attack.

Gadhafi had pledged in comments broadcast by state television late Wednesday that his forces would recapture Misrata, the country's third city and the last big opposition stronghold in western Libya, in a "decisive battle."

Author: Michael Knigge (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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