Coalition builds to free Libya of Gaddafi

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Only hours after the UN Security Council voted on Thursday to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and to provide help for Libyan rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, a flurry of diplomatic and military activity resulted in what appears to be a "coalition of the willing" to free the country of its dictator.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will travel to France tomorrow for talks on Libya with President Nicolas Sarkozy and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, agencies reported. Cameron and Sarkozy had spearheaded hardline options against the Gaddafi regime as violence in Libya escalated.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Cameron said all criteria for intervention against Gaddafi had been met.

"Preparations to deploy […] aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to bases from where they can start to take the necessary action," the UK prime minister said.

French President Sarkozy, who currently holds the presidency of the G20 group of rich nations, started an intense round of meetings and talks, both with domestic officials and foreign leaders, in what looks like an attempt to coordinate intervention in Libya.

Sarkozy met with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to discuss the UN resolution. The French president also spoke on the phone with US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

France called for a summit between the Arab League, the African Union and the European Union to take place in the French capital of Paris on 19 March, Le Figaro reported. The list of participants is yet to be finalised and not all representatives of the three institutions are expected to attend, according to a statement from the French presidential office.

Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon said that her country would make airbases in Rota and Moron available to NATO for possible international operation in Libya, the EFE agency reported.

Belgium will contribute six F-16 fighter planes and a frigate to the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone operation over Libya, Belgian European Affairs Minister Olivier Chastel said, according to AFP.

Italy is reportedly prepared to contribute both military air bases and airplanes to the implementation of the no-fly zone over Libya, according to sources quoted by Corriere della Sera.

Denmark will send six F-16 fighters and a military transport aircraft to participate in the no-fly zone over Libya, Danish Defence Minister Gitte Lillelund Bech said, adding that she expected international action to begin over the weekend of 19-20 March.

Even Germany, which abstained from voting on the UN resolution, said it may send additional crews to Afghanistan in order to free up US reconnaissance planes to monitor action against Gaddafi.

Libya on the defensive?

In the meantime, Libya said on it would halt all military operations to protect its civilians, backtracking from an earlier threat to root out rebels after Western powers warned of punitive action.

Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said Libya was ready to open dialogue with all parties, without specifying who. He also said the no-fly zone would increase the suffering of Libyans and said authorising military action was "unacceptable".

Libyan rebels based in Benghazi said the only talks they would accept were on how to bring to an end Gaddafi's 41 years in power. Ordinary Libyans in the east said they were sceptical about Koussa's remarks but said they appeared to  suggest that Gaddafi could fall.

In a rapid about-turn from violent threats issued by the Libyan leader on Thursday night, Koussa told reporters in Tripoli that "we have decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations".

Koussa also made an offer of talks.

France, which has been at the forefront of calls for a no-fly zone and military action, said it remained cautious following Koussa's comments, saying the threat on the ground in Libya had not been lifted.

Gaddafi had offered talks with rebels earlier in the conflict, but the rebels rejected any negotiations that could leave him in power.

Supporters of Libyan rebels said on Friday they were impatient for action to follow up the UN resolution.

"It's a great development. We are so thankful. Thousands came out last night, families, everyone celebrating. But we are waiting for it to be implemented. We are tired of talk," said Rajab Mohammed al-Agouri, who left Benghazi late on Thursday.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The UN Security Council voted late yesterday (17 March) to authorise the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya and the taking of "all necessary measures" - code for military action - to protect civilians from leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Ten of the council's 15 members voted in favour of the resolution, with Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstaining. The resolution was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States.

The adoption of the resolution after days of closed-door negotiations could lead to a dramatic escalation of international involvement in a conflict that erupted last month between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces and rebels trying to topple him.

The decision is expected to involve air operations by Britain, France and the United States in the coming hours.

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