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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has voiced his opposition to NATO intervention in Libya, but said he had his "hands tied by parliament." His comments expose the fragility of the ongoing NATO operation.
NATO aerial attacks on Libya have lasted three months
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, voiced serious doubts about the success of the NATO mission in Libya, saying he was, and still is "against this intervention."
NATO warplanes have been bombing Libya for three months, following a resolution by the UN Security Council. However, the alliance is under strain due to the cost of the operation and its failure to produce a decisive outcome.
"I was against this measure," said Berlusconi on Thursday. "I had my hands tied by the vote of the parliament of my country."
He added he continued to be against the intervention as it "will end in a way that no one knows."
Libyan leader Gadhafi has called the NATO campaign an act of colonial aggression
Berlusconi said he would have wanted to align himself in March with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chose not to involve her country in the NATO mission.
Berlusconi's words suggest a rift between the NATO allies, and a growing pressure to remove Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from power by the end of the summer.
There was however no suggestion that Rome would withdraw the use of its bases, which provide a take-off point for some of the bombing missions.
Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa did say that general defense spending cuts would mean the cost of the operation to Italy would fall from 142 million euros ($203 million) in the first half of the year, to less than 60 million euros in the second half.
Potentially adding political pressure on Italy, a senior Libyan government spokesman said negotiations had begun with Russian and Chinese firms to take over the role of Italian energy firm ENI in oil and gas projects.
Author: Catherine Bolsover (Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson