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Gadhafi Claims Cease-Fire in Libya as U.S., Other Powers Prep No-Fly Zone

March 18, 2011 at 6:10 PM EDT
As the U.S. and other nations prepared to enforce a no-fly zone approved by the U.N., President Obama warned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to cease all attacks on civilians immediately. Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News reports from Tripoli, and Hari Sreenivasan talks with GlobalPost's James Foley in Benghazi.
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RAY SUAREZ: The U.S. and other powers made ready today to enforce a no-fly zone and other measures in Libya. President Obama said the world would not be deterred by Moammar Gadhafi’s claims of a cease-fire.

The president spoke in the East Room of the White House this afternoon, after conferring with congressional leaders.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let me be clear: These terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action.

RAY SUAREZ: The terms include stopping the advance to Benghazi and pulling back from three other towns.

The authorization for military action came Thursday evening. The U.N. Security Council approved a no-fly zone and all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians from pro-Gadhafi forces. The vote was 10-0, with five abstentions, including Russia, China, and NATO member Germany.

Later, Libya announced it was halting all military operations. But Libya’s ambassador to the U.S., who no longer supports Gadhafi, voiced serious doubts.

ALI SULEIMAN AUJALI, Libyan ambassador to the United States: We have to be very careful. This is a trick. This man, he is welcoming the resolution, but in the same time, he is invading Misrata. He is killing the people. He’s moving his — his armies from — to strategic points. Please, you have to be very careful with this.

RAY SUAREZ: The French echoed that skepticism. They and the British were taking the lead in planning the military operations against Libya.

BERNARD VALERO, French foreign ministry (through translator): Mr. Gadhafi has declared a cease-fire, but you know, he has made so many declarations, each one more exotic than the other, declarations in these last few weeks that have been increasingly frightening. So, one more declaration doesn’t have a lot of significance or impact.

RAY SUAREZ: It was unclear when military action might begin. The British began deploying typhoon and tornado attack aircraft to the Mediterranean region. And Italy said it would allow its air bases to be used.

The exact U.S. role remained unclear, but the president stressed it would not include ground troops. Several American warships were already in the area, including an amphibious assault ship, plus 400 U.S. Marines and dozens of helicopters.

JEFFREY BROWN: Images coming out of Libya today illustrated the conflicting claims of what was going on inside the country.

In Tripoli, Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News has more on the day’s developments.

JONATHAN MILLER: Benghazi’s wild celebrations, fireworks, flares, the old tri-color flag, gunfire, cheering and chanting went on all night and into the new day. It’s not deliverance, but for the besieged city, international protection is the next best thing.

3:00 p.m. local time, and in Tripoli, a grim-faced Musa Kusa, former head-of-intelligence-turned-foreign-minister, made a terse statement.

MUSA KUSA, Libyan foreign minister (through translator): Therefore, Libya has decided an immediate cease-fire.

JONATHAN MILLER: He called for dialogue. The resolution, he said, was a violation of Libyan sovereignty and said it was strange and unreasonable that the U.N. had sanctioned the use of military power.

But it’s not so strange, given persistent reports post-cease-fire announcement that rebel-held Misrata, 130 miles east of Tripoli, remains under heavy bombardment. The government denies this. We can’t authenticate these pictures, but they accord with eyewitness reports — 25 killed, doctors say. So much for the immediate cease-fire.

MOHAMMED ALI, Misrata Medical Center: They’re still shelling the city. I hope you can hear the gunfire in the background. About an hour ago, two shells landed across the road from the medical center into the local hotel there.

JONATHAN MILLER: Col. Gadhafi had warned that his troops would have no mercy. The U.N. had no right to intervene, he said, branding it madness. “If the world has gone crazy,” he said, “then we will go crazy, too.”

At 2:00 a.m. local time, two hours after the U.N. vote, angry protesters interrupted an emergency news conference at our central Tripoli hotel. “Britain and America have let us all down once again,” they chant.

These demonstrators knew exactly where to come. They have invaded the hotel in which all the foreign journalists were staying.

Listen, a whole bunch of demonstrators have just invaded a hotel with foreign journalists.

MUSSA IBRAHIM, Libyan government spokesman: Guys. Please, please, guys.

They saw us on TV, because this was broadcast live.

JONATHAN MILLER: So they came to the hotel that fast?

MUSSA IBRAHIM: They live here. This is a neighborhood. Oh, come on now. Don’t do that to me.

JONATHAN MILLER: Tripoli’s pro-Gadhafi mobs who have continued today to play to the foreign press gallery can read between the lines of the U.N. resolution. The stated objective is to stop bloodshed, but the unstated objective is pretty clear: regime change.

RAY SUAREZ: And now more on the view from Benghazi.

Al-Jazeera reported late today that Gadhafi’s forces continued advancing to towns 30 miles from the city.

Earlier, Hari Sreenivasan talked by Skype with James Foley of the international Web site GlobalPost who was at a restaurant in Benghazi.

HARI SREENIVASAN: James, what was the celebration like on the streets of Benghazi when they heard the news that the U.N. Security Council had approved a no-fly zone?

JAMES FOLEY, GlobalPost: Around midnight, when word came out about the U.N. resolution, the square just erupted in gunfire, later fireworks, and spontaneous marching. It was by far the most firing I had heard in my several days here. And it continued throughout the night.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ve heard a lot about Gadhafi taking over other cities. What are you hearing outside of Benghazi?

JAMES FOLEY: We heard just from an eyewitness that Ajdabiya is — continued to be shelled and bombed today, even after the cease-fire. In fact, it might have intensified.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do people you talk to trust Gadhafi’s offer to create a dialogue with the opposition?

JAMES FOLEY: Not at all. The people on the street are out for blood. After 42 years, they don’t believe he will keep to a cease-fire. And there’s no feeling to show him any mercy.

One man said: “We don’t trust him. He doesn’t (INAUDIBLE) the no-fly zone. He only respects power. And now that the West is involved, there’s power involved.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: James Foley from GlobalPost reporting from Benghazi via Skype.