An immediate ceasefire against pro-democracy protesters has been announced by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s government (photo), while a coalition of Western and Arab nations prepared for air strikes against Libyan forces.
Hours before that announcement, the United Nations Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over the country. Britain, France, the US, Norway, Canada and Qatar are expected to enforce the intervention which bans military aircraft from flying in Libyan airspace, but allows commercial or humanitarian flights.
Although the Arab League has reiterated its support for the no-fly zone, it remains unclear to what extent Arab nations will be involved in the operation.
On Thursday evening, Resolution 1973 gave broad backing to taking military action against all threats to civilians, which could include bombing ground forces loyal to the Libyan leader.
The resolution on Libya was approved by the 15-member UN Security Council with 10 votes in favour, none against and five abstentions.
Rather than using their power of veto as permanent members, Russia and China abstained. Those two countries often oppose the use of force against a sovereign country because they believe it sets a dangerous precedent.
Heavy fighting was still going on before the ceasefire, and rebels said government forces had been bombarding the western city of Misrata.
There are claims this has continued despite the ceasefire announcement.
“We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” said Mussa Kussa, the Libyan foreign minister, adding “[Libya] takes great interest in protecting civilians”.
Hours before the ceasefire announcement, Col Gaddafi had said the Security Council had “no mandate” for such a resolution, “which we absolutely do not recognise”.
“This is not a war between two countries that permits the council to intervene,” he said in an interview on Portuguese television. The UN Charter “does not permit interference in domestic affairs”, he added.
Actions not words
“We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words, we would have to see actions on the ground and that is not yet at all clear,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press Gaddafi to leave and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC : “What is absolutely clear is the UN Security Council resolution said he must stop what he is doing, brutalising his people.”
“If not, all necessary measures can follow to make him stop.”
France remains prudent. “We have to be very cautious. He [Gaddafi] is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” Bernard Valero, foreign ministry spokesman told the Reuters news agency.
About the ceasefire, in the eastern city of Benghazi, an anti-Gaddafi stronghold, a rebel commander accused the Libyan leader of “bluffing”.
Khalifa Heftir told reporters: “Gaddafi does not speak any truth… All the world knows that Muammar Gaddafi is a liar. He and his sons, and his family, and all those with him are liars.”
Col Gaddafi has been in power for 42 years and an uprising against him began last month.