US approves no-fly zone over Libya

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council voted Thursday to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorize “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from attacks by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, hours after the Libyan leader vowed to crush the rebellion with a final assault on the opposition capital of Benghazi.

The U.N. vote paved the way for possible international air strikes on Gadhafi’s advancing military and reflected the past week’s swift reversal of the situation in Libya, where once-confident rebels are now in danger of being obliterated by an overpowering pro-Gadhafi force using rockets, artillery, tanks, warplanes. That force has advanced along the Mediterranean coast aiming to recapture the rebel-held eastern half of Libya.

The resolution establishes “a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians.” It also authorizes U.N. member states to take “all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

The vote was 10-0 with five countries abstaining including Russia and China, which have veto power in the council, along with India, Germany and Brazil. The United States, France and Britain pushed for speedy approval.

In Benghazi, Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel showed a large crowd watching the vote on an outdoor TV projection burst into celebration as green and red fireworks exploded in the air.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told France-2 Television that if the resolution was approved France would support military action against Gadhafi within a matter of hours.

The resolution also calls for stronger enforcement of the arms embargo, adds names of individuals, companies and other entities to the list of those subject to travel bans and asset freezes, and requires all countries to ban Libyan flights from landing, taking off or overflying their country.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the council had taken “an historic decision” to protect civilians from violence perpetrated by their own government. “Given the critical situation on the ground, I expect immediate action on the resolution’s provisions,” he said.

The U.N. resolution specifically bans a ground offensive against Libya.

A large crowd in Benghazi was watching the vote on an outdoor TV projection and burst into cheers, with green and red fireworks exploding overhead. In Tobruk, east of Benghazi, happy Libyans fired weapons in the air to celebrate the vote.

US readying plans to enforce no-fly zone

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration was readying plans to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya with the help of Arab countries, officials said Thursday as the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize the move.

These officials, who spoke after a closed-door briefing in Congress, said they expected the attempt to ground Moammar Gadhafi’s air force could begin by Sunday or Monday. The effort likely would involve jet fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft.

One official said Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were among possible participants, in a showing designed to demonstrate that the effort to shield rebels trying to bring down Gadhafi had support from other countries in the region.

The disclosures came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Tunisia that a no-fly zone would include “certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems.”

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