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(photo credit: REUTERS/Lionel Bonaventure)
PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Western air forces, with Arab League approval, had gone into action on Saturday over Libya and were preventing Muammar Gaddafi's forces attacking the rebel city of Benghazi.
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"As of now, our planes are preventing air attacks on the city of Benghazi," he said adding that military action supported by France, Britain, the United States and Canada and backed by Arab nations could be halted if Gaddafi stopped his forces attacking. French planes were also ready to strike Libyan tanks.
"It's a grave decision we've had to take," Sarkozy said after meeting in Paris with world leaders
on how to coordinate a military intervention in Libya.
"Along with our Arab, European and North American partners, France has decided to play its part before history."
Sarkozy said of the meeting: "Those taking part agreed to put in place all necessary means, especially military, to enforce the decisions of the United Nations Security Council.
"This is why, in agreement with our partners, our air forces will counter any aggression by Colonel Gaddafi's aircraft against the population of Benghazi," he said.
"As of now, other French aircraft are ready to intervene against armored vehicles which threaten unarmed civilians."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opposes military action, was also present and said afterwards that Berlin also agreed that violence in Libya must end.
Sarkozy, briefing reporters but taking no questions, said: "Colonel Gaddafi has scorned our warnings. In the past few hours his forces have intensified their murderous offensive."
"The Libyan people need our aid and support. It's our duty," Sarkozy said.
"In Libya, a peaceful civilian population that is seeking only to be able to choose its own destiny has found itself in mortal danger. It's our duty to respond to their appeal," he said.
"Today we are intervening in Libya under the UN mandate with our partners and notably our Arab partners. We are doing it to protect the civilian population from the murderous madness of a regime that in killing its own people has lost all legitimacy.
"There is still time for Colonel Gaddafi to avoid the worst, by acting without delay and without reservations in accordance with all the demands of the international community. The door of international diplomacy will open again the moment attacks end."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, also speaking after the meeting, said Gaddafi has broken the
ceasefire and will face urgent action to prevent more civilian deaths.
"Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international
community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire,"
Cameron told British television reporters after the meeting of
international leaders in Paris.
"He continues to brutalize his own people and so the time for action has
come. It needs to be urgent, we have to enforce the will of the United
Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue."