Libya on Friday announced an immediate ceasefire in the month-long battle against rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, saying it was complying with demands from the United Nations Security Council.
“Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire and an immediate halt to all military operations,” Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said as a coalition of Western and Arab nations geared up to launch air strikes after the UN approved military action to stop Gaddafi from crushing an insurgency.
Kussa said that Libya, as a member of the UN, was “obliged to accept the UN Security Council’s resolutions”.
Meeting on Thursday, the Security Council voted to permit “all necessary measures” to establish a no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Gaddafi’s military.
Resolution 1973 “demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians”.
Libya’s ceasefire announcement came only hours after Gaddafi said in an interview on Portuguese television that the 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 argued. The UN charter “does not permit interference in the domestic affairs” of a country.
Meanwhile, Nato said it would discuss on Friday what role the alliance may take, and the Arab League said UN chief Ban Ki-moon will attend a high-level meeting of European Union, Arab League and African Union officials in Paris on Saturday.
US President Barack Obama had called French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss strategy.
“The leaders agreed that Libya must immediately comply with all terms of the resolution and that violence against the civilian population of Libya must cease,” the White House said in a statement.
So far Belgium, Britain, France, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Qatar and the US have said they will help to enforce the no-fly zone.
French government spokesperson Francois Baroin said on Friday the strikes will come “rapidly … within a few hours”.
The aim would be to “protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Gaddafi regime”, he said.
Cameron told the House of Commons “we will deploy Tornado and Typhoon as well as air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft. Preparations to deploy these have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can take the necessary action,” he said.
Britain has an airbase on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus and also has two frigates, HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster, already in the Mediterranean.
There was no immediate indication of what might be targeted, but last week a source close to Sarkozy said the French president was looking at Gaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia command headquarters in Tripoli, a military air base in Sirte, east of Tripoli, and another in Sebha in the south.
Bastion of the insurrection
Earlier on Friday, rebels in Misrata, a bastion of the insurrection east of Tripoli, said Gaddafi’s forces were pounding the city after a night of heavy gunfire.
“Dozens of bombs of all sorts have fallen on the city since last night,” a spokesperson said, adding that the bombing was “still intense”.
Clashes were also reported in the western towns of Nalut and Zintan.
The UN has estimated more than 1 000 people have been killed in what is now a month of fighting.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the resolution should send a strong message “that the violence must stop, the killing must stop and the people of Libya must be protected and have the opportunity to express themselves freely”.
In The Hague, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned the Libyan government that any indiscriminate attack on civilians in Benghazi would constitute “war crimes”.
‘Opening of channels of dialogue’
Announcing the ceasefire, Libya’s foreign minister said Tripoli was encouraging the “opening of channels of dialogue with all parties”, although he did not elaborate.
However, he said he “deeply regretted” the resolution, which he said would “aggravate the suffering of the Libyan people”.
The people of Benghazi erupted with fireworks and joyful gunfire after news spread of the UN resolution.
Celebrations in Libya’s second city, the stronghold of the month-long mainly eastern rebellion against Gaddafi’s iron-fisted four-decade rule, carried on through the night.
Preachers in mosques across the Mediterranean city used loudspeakers to shout “God is greatest, God is greatest.”
Tracer bullets and anti-aircraft fire ripped through the night sky, punctuated by the blaring of car horns.
Gaddafi, in a broadcast just hours before the vote, had warned his forces would attack Benghazi on Thursday night and show “no mercy”.
“We will chase the traitors from Benghazi,” he said, addressing his troops. “Destroy their fortifications. Show them no mercy. The world needs to see Benghazi free.”
Killed and wounded
About 300 000 people have fled Libya since clashes broke out between rebels and pro-regime forces, and many more are expected to leave, the agencies said.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, more than 30 people were killed and scores wounded during an anti-government demonstration in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on Friday, medics and witnesses said.
Thousands of Shi’ites protested after Friday prayers in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, in defiance of martial law and a deadly crackdown by the strategic Gulf kingdom’s security forces.
And Saudi King Abdullah warned security forces would “hit” whoever “considers” undermining the kingdom’s security and stability, in a televised speech coupled with an announcement of improved social benefits. — AFP