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Qaddafi Troops Near Benghazi May Face Air Attack After UN Vote

Qaddafi Troops Near Benghazi May Face Air Attack
Libyans wave the flag of the Kingdom of Libya and the French tricolor as they celebrate in Benghazi following the United Nations Security Council's resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Photographer: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Muammar Qaddafi’s troops outside the rebel base of Benghazi may face air strikes from the U.S., France and other allies after the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of force to protect civilians.

The council’s resolution, approved yesterday 10-0 with five abstentions, allows the U.S., the U.K., France and Arab nations to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians. It excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” France said military action may start within hours and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called an emergency Cabinet meeting.

Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, signalled after the Security Council passed the resolution that government troops won’t try to enter Benghazi, though they will encircle it, backing away from earlier threats, Agence France-Presse reported. Qaddafi had threatened to “destroy” the opposition movement, recapture Benghazi, a city of 1 million people, and show “no mercy” to “traitors” who don’t surrender.

The UN vote opens the way for the first Western military action against an Arab regime since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Its announcement drew cheers and celebratory gunfire from hundreds of anti-Qaddafi Libyans gathered in Benghazi. Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia abstained from voting in New York. Oil extended gains on the prospect of a broader conflict in Libya, which holds Africa’s largest reserves.

‘Several Hours’

Military intervention against Libya could happen within “several hours,” French government spokesman Francois Baroin said in an interview on RTL radio. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told the Security Council before the vote: “Every day, every hour we see the closing of the clamp on the civilian population. We should not arrive too late.”

Crude oil for April delivery rose 1.5 percent to $102.92 a barrel at 7:45 a.m. in London, after a 3.5 percent jump yesterday that was the biggest in more than three weeks. The contract is up 22 percent since the Libyan conflict broke out a month ago, and political tensions in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region have also fuelled gains. Libya’s crude oil exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to facilities and international sanctions, the International Energy Agency said March 15.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the military action authorised by the UN would take place, or who would participate. Hisham Yousif, chief of staff for the Arab League’s secretary-general, declined to say which Arab countries expected to take part, saying announcements should come from those countries as and when they deem appropriate.

Turkey, Denmark

Turkey, the only majority-Muslim member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, does not support direct military intervention in Libya “for the moment,” and is examining the coalition for action that is developing, said Selcuk Unal, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Denmark is ready to provide “a concrete contribution” as fast as possible, the Ritzau newswire reported, citing Foreign Minister Lene Espersen.

Yesterday, Libyan jets dropped bombs on the outskirts of Benghazi, and Qaddafi went on state television to say the “decisive hour” had arrived for his forces to take the coastal city. Fighting continued around Ajdabiya, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Benghazi, where Qaddafi’s forces are facing rebel holdouts.

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