UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for an immediate cease-fire in Libya, where the troops of leader Muammar Gaddafi are advancing against rebel forces in the east.

A statement read out by UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban was "gravely concerned" about signs of a forthcoming government assault on the eastern city of Benghazi.

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Bombarding such a city "would massively place civilian lives at risk," the statement said, adding, "The Secretary-General is urging all parties in this conflict to accept an immediate cease-fire."

The statement said Ban spoke by telephone late on Tuesday with Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa but gave no details of their discussions.

The United States, France and Britain on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council to take swift action on a proposed no-fly zone over Libya, as Washington suggested it might have decided to back the plan.

Britain, France and Lebanon have circulated to the 15-nation council a draft resolution to authorize a no-fly zone to halt Libyan government air strikes on rebels. But the United States, Russia, China, Germany, India and other council members have been either undecided or voiced doubts about the idea.

British, French and Lebanese envoys distributed the draft on Tuesday after the Arab League called on the council over the weekend to establish a no-fly zone in Libya to stop air attacks on rebels by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

In remarks that suggested a reluctant Washington had agreed to support the idea of a no-fly zone, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was hopeful the council would take a vote on a Libya resolution no later than Thursday.

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"We are moving as rapidly as we can in New York to see whether we can get additional authorization for the international community to look at a broad range of actions, not just a no-fly zone but other actions as well," Clinton told reporters in Cairo.

"We won't know until there is an actual vote. We're hoping that will be no later than tomorrow," she said.


In an interview with MSNBC, Clinton said "We regret (Gaddafi's) absolute willingness to slaughter his own people."

"But we think that there is a lot that can be done if we can reach international agreement on what should be done," she said.

Washington had reacted cautiously to the calls for a no-fly zone over Libya. It has insisted that Arab nations would have to actively participate in any such zone over Libya.

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