Friday, March 18, 2011

Libya no-fly zone prompts Moammar Khadafy to close airspace in defiance of UN decision

Friday, March 18th 2011, 8:58 AM

Moammar Khadafy has said "there will be no mercy or compassion" for those who resist as his troops advanced to the besieged city.
RTP Portugal TV/AP
Moammar Khadafy has said "there will be no mercy or compassion" for those who resist as his troops advanced to the besieged city.

Moammar Khadafy closed Libyan airspace Friday in defiance of the West's plans to impose a no-fly zone over the country.

Hours after the UN authorized "all necessary measures" to protect the Libyan people, Europe's air traffic agency issued a statement saying Tripoli has closed its air space to all flights.

Eurocontrol said it had no information on how long Libya's airspace would remain closed but told airlines all air traffic was halted for at least 24 hours.

"We applied a zero traffic rate for the whole day," an offical said, on condition of anonymity.

The UN Security Council approved the no-fly zone Thursday as a "humanitarian gesture," forcing Moammar Khadafy to immediately call off merciless aerial attacks to crush the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Britain announced on Friday that it will send fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone. France has also said it will provide military help.

President Obama telephoned British and French leaders last night on how to coordinate the military response.

The U.S. already has a significant military presence in the area and several ships off Libya.

Before the vote, the Libyan strongman proclaimed that the "hour of decision has come" and "there will be no mercy or compassion" for those who resist as his troops advanced to the besieged city.

"The matter has been decided. ... We are coming," he said in a telephone call to state television.

Following the UN measure, which authorizes "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from attacks by Khadafy's men - including air and sea strikes - Libyan leaders abruptly changed tactics.

Khadafy's son, Saif al-Islam, said the army would not be entering Benghazi after all.

"It's going to take up positions around the stronghold. The reason is they expect a humanitarian exodus," CNN reported the son saying.


A British Typhoon fighter jet. Ministry of Defence

The Security Council voted 10-0, with Russia, China and Germany among the five abstaining.

The news was met with celebrations and fireworks in Benghazi, and Al Jazeera television showed residents in the city's center waving flags and shouting defiance against Khadafy.

"The Libyan people want a no-fly zone, we want them to target Khadafy's forces, his positions, but we don't want any troops on our land. We don't want to be like Iraq," said protester Mustafa Safez. "We will win this war, and we are not afraid of him any more."

The resolution marked an about-face for the U.S., which earlier had avoided calling for military action.

"Today the Security Council has responded to the Libyan people's cry for help," said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

Some Arab states, including Qatar and United Arab Emirates, could be among the countries joining the international coalition, the Arab League's UN representative said.

In recent days, Khadafy's forces have pounded the rebels, using rockets, artillery, tanks and warplanes.

With News Wire Services

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