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'We are not at war,’ says Prime Minister Fillon

Three days after the start of the international military mission over Libya, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon (pictured) defended France’s involvement in Libya during Tuesday's parliamentary debate.


Opening the debate on French involvement in Libya, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon reiterated that the intervention was intended to stop attacks against Libyan civilians, and nothing more.

“We are not at war with Libya, we are protecting the civilian population,” said Fillon and added, “Our objectives are very specific... to protect the civilian population, excluding explicitly any occupation forces.”
France and Libya
As the first and only country in the world to recognize the Libyan opposition’s National Transition Council, France took a leading role in pushing for a no-fly zone to contain Muammar Gaddafi’s air power and stop the Libyan leader from targeting civilians.

The resulting UN resolution 1973, which was passed last week, gives the international community wide scope to use "all necessary means" to protect civilians.

Domestic repercussions
Fillon admitted that French involvement could have “domestic repercussions,'' and that intelligence services had been mobilized as “threats were made” against France. But he did not provide further details.
 Reporting from the French parliament Tuesday, FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris Trent said Fillon had mentioned the recent uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt and asserted that “France want[s] to see a new era in the Mediterranean region."
“His speech focused not just on what’s going on in Libya, but in very idealistic terms, on what’s going on in the entire region,” she said.
Under French law, the executive branch must inform parliament about the government’s move to commit French troops abroad.
Parliamentary approval, however, is not mandated under French law and Tuesday’s debate is not expected to spark much controversy.

Political support

French political opinion has been largely behind President Nicolas Sarkozy’s deployment of forces to aid the international mission in Libya.
Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has welcomed France’s involvement in Libya. In an interview published on Sunday in the weekly newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, Villepin supported the French military initiative against Gaddafi.
France’s main opposition Socialist Party has also supported UN Resolution 1973.
Addressing parliament after Fillon, Socialist Party parliamentarian Jean-Marc Ayrault, said his party had agreed with the text and the hopes of UN Resolution 1973. But he also warned of the risks of a stalemate.
“We do not know the actual military capabilities of the Libyan insurgents,” said Ayrault. “Muammar Gaddafi is in no hurry.”
In his speech before parliament Tuesday, French foreign minister Alain Juppe responded to concerns over the long-term strategy in Libya, calling for the formation of political steering committees comprising of the foreign ministers from coalition partners – including Arab allies – to discuss the next stages of the Libyan intervention.
Juppe told parliament that the political steering committees could meet in Paris, Brussels or London in the coming days.

He  also reiterated France’s position that NATO must not take political control of the military operations after the USA handed over control because it would alienate Arab countries although France was willing to use the alliance's military command to plan and execute air operations.
At the extreme ends of the political spectru,  though, hardline left and right parties have voiced opposition to the intervention. “This is an act of war,” said Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the far right Front National party. “It will not solve the problem, which is one of long-term civil war”.



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