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Arab League chief slams air strikes

Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Sunday criticised Western-led air strikes in Libya, despite having called earlier in March for a UN no-fly zone over the country. Moussa said the bombardment "differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone".


AFP - The Arab League on Sunday criticised Western military strikes on Libya, despite Britain and France indicating that Arab involvement was imminent, and even though it had itself urged a no-fly zone.

"What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians," Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters.

"From the start we requested only that a no-fly zone be set up to protect Libyan civilians and avert any other developments or additional measures," he added.

On March 12, the 22-member Arab League urged the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone on Libya and said Moamer Kadhafi's regime had "lost legitimacy" as it sought to snuff out a rebellion designed to oust him from power.

Splits already appearing in coalition

In the West's biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, US warships and a British submarine fired more than 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya on Saturday, the US military said.

French warplanes also carried out air strikes.

The UN Security Council last week passed Resolution 1973 authorising military action to prevent Kadhafi forces from attacking civilians.

The resolution permits "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Kadhafi's military but rules out sending foreign ground troops.

Mussa said preparations were under way to convene an emergency meeting of the Arab League at which Libya would top the agenda.

But his criticism of the Western military action came in marked contrast to comments from British and French officials who indicated that they expected or had already secured specific Arab involvement in the military operations.

French defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire told reporters in Paris that Arab League member Qatar has decided to deploy four planes to take part in the military operations against Kadhafi's regime.

He described Qatar's decision as a "crucial point," adding: "This shows the Arab participation in this operation."

In London, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC he expected the first Arab nation to join the military campaign against Libya within days.

"I spoke this morning to some of the leaders of the Arab countries who said that they might be involved and got a very warm response and I hope that that will become apparent," he said.

France said it was "fully" applying the UN resolution on Libya and staying strictly within its terms.

"France is fully and uniquely applying resolution 1973," said Teisseire.

Visiting Cairo last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Arab League's support for a no-fly zone was a "turning point" in helping to muster the adequate number of votes for the UN Security Council resolution.

"I think many countries that had a negative view about taking any action began to reconsider that following the Arab League statement," she said.

Straight after that, she said the UN Security Council would convene the following day, when they adopted Resolution 1973 on Libya.


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