French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans Saturday for military action to protect civilians in Libya amid combat between leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and rebel fighters. Sarkozy said French military jets were already in flight over Libya and were ready to intervene if a full cease-fire is not declared.
Sarkozy called the decision “grave” and said the move was unanimously decided among world leaders meeting at a summit in Paris on the issue. “Our air force will oppose any aggression,” Sarkozy said, adding that “our determination is total.”
“In accord with our partners, our air forces will oppose any aggression by Col. Gadhafi’s airplanes against the population of Benghazi. Already, our planes are preventing air attacks against the city. Already, other French planes are ready to intervene against tanks that would threaten unarmed civilians,” Sarkozy said.
Gadhafi warned international leaders not to enforce a no-fly zone in Libyan skies Saturday as new reports emerged that pro-government forces entered the rebel stronghold of Benghazi amid fierce fighting.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Sarkozy and other leaders from the Arab world and Western powers met in Paris for urgent talks on military steps against the Libyan government over its attacks on civilians and in the wake of a U.N. Security Council resolution on a no-fly zone over the country.
“Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen,” Cameron said after the meeting, according to the BBC. “He has lied to the international community, he has promised a cease-fire, he has broken that cease-fire.”
The AP reports that a communique from the summit participants, referring to the U.N. Security Council resolution, said: “Our commitment is for the long term: we will not let Colonel Gadhafi and his regime go on defying the will of the international community and scorning that of his people.
“We will continue our aid to the Libyans so that they can rebuild their country, fully respecting Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Gadhafi warned leaders in open letters Saturday: “You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs.” It was his first public response to the U.N. Security Council’s vote Thursday authorizing no-fly zones and “all necessary means” to halt attacks against opposition forces.
“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans,” Gadhafi wrote in letters addressed to President Obama, and the leaders of Britain, France and the United Nations. “This is injustice, it is clear aggression, and it is uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.”
Government troops, tanks and warplanes swarmed Benghazi, the city in eastern Libya that was the first to come under rebel control when the uprisings against Gadhafi began. One plane appeared to have been shot down near the city, reported the Associated Press, promoting cheers from anti-government forces. Reports differ however, on whether the plane belonged to Gadhafi forces or opposition fighters and who shot it down.
France’s ambassador to the United Nations told BBC Newsnight that he expected military action to begin within hours of the emergency meeting in Paris, and rebel leaders are calling for quick action.
“Now there is a bombardment by artillery and rockets on all districts of Benghazi,” rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil told Al Jazeera television. “There will be a catastrophe if the international community does not implement the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council. We appeal to the international community, to the all the free world, to stop this tyranny from exterminating civilians.”
In an interview with Ray Suarez on Friday’s PBS NewsHour, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice warned of “swift” consequences for Gadhafi if attacks on civilians continue.
And for more background, watch NewsHour interviews with Gadhafi in 1985 and 1981.
Several news organizations are tracking developments in Libya as they happen. Among them, Al Jazeera English has a live blog; BBC News has a live blog and news stream; the Telegraph has a live blog; and The New York Times is tracking events, with features like this interactive map of the Libya rebellion.
We’ll have more on the Rundown as events warrant and more analysis of all these developments on Monday’s PBS NewsHour.