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UN suspends Libya from human rights body amid calls for no-fly zone

The United Nations has suspended Libya from its human rights body in response to violence against protesters. Meanwhile, calls for a no-fly zone to stop air attacks on regime opponents are proving divisive.

The empty seats of the Libyan delegation are pictured before the Human Rights Council

The human rights council's request was unprecedented

The United Nations has suspended Libya from its body to oversee human rights as calls are made for a no-fly zone to be established over the country.

The 192-member UN General Assembly agreed to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council in response to violence by supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi against protesters. Delegates arrived at the decision by consensus - without the need for a vote - after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged the body to "act decisively" on the issue.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Ban voiced approval for the assembly's decision

Libya's suspension came three days after the UN Security Council passed sanctions against the regime as well as a call for an investigation into crimes against humanity.

"These actions send a strong and important message," said Ban on Tuesday evening. "A message of great consequence within the region and beyond - that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished, that fundamental principles of justice and accountability shall prevail."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the decision to suspend Libya.

"Whoever has harmed human rights in such a terrible way has no place on the Human Rights Council of the UN," Westerwelle said.

No-fly zone proposed

The US Senate on Tuesday passed a unanimous symbolic resolution urging the world to consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to stop reported attacks on protesters from the air.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is also advocating the no-fly option, said "it is not acceptable to have a situation where Colonel Gadhafi can be murdering his own people, using airplanes and helicopter gunships and the like."

The USS Kearsarge

The USS Kearsarge is one warship on its way to the area

US warships were being redeployed towards the Libyan coastline early on Wednesday. However, Washington defense leaders played down the likelihood of the no-fly zone, urging a cautious approach to any military action.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that there was no agreement within NATO about military intervention in Libya. In addition, Senior US commander General James Mattis warned the Senate that the no-fly zone would make it necessary to bomb air defense targets within Libya. "It would be a military operation," said Mattis. "It wouldn't simply be telling people not to fly airplanes."

France warns of 'counter-productive' measures

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe ruled out the military action without a clear UN mandate, claiming that NATO intervention could proved counter-productive in terms of Arab public opinion.

Anti-Gadhafi factions lift a pre-Gadhafi-era flag

Anti-Gadhafi factions have gained control of much of Libya

UN support looks unlikely after permanent security council member Russia hinted it would veto any such resolution.

EU leaders are to hold a summit in Brussels on March 11 aimed at formulating a response to the crisis in Libya and unrest in other parts of the Arab world. "What is going on, the massive violence against peaceful demonstrators, shocks our conscience," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "It should spring us into action."

Libyan anti-regime leaders claim to have formed a military council in the eastern city of Benghazi, the epicenter of efforts to topple Gadhafi. The regime has, however, retained some control in and around the capital, Tripoli, in the west.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR claimed on Tuesday that the situation on Libya's border with Tunisia was close to the crisis point. Tunisian expatriate workers are desperate to escape the violence in Libya, which has left at least 1,000 dead, according to UN estimates.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Catherine Bolsover

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