Sarkozy announces start of military intervention in Libya

French president says military action could stop if Gaddafi halts attacks; Obama, in Brazil, says people of Libya must be protected.

sarkozy cameron clinton_311 reuters (photo credit: REUTERS/Lionel Bonaventure)
sarkozy cameron clinton_311 reuters
(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.
"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.
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"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."
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."
Clinton says US will participate in Libya operation
Also Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Paris that the United States would bring its "unique capabilities" to bear to help its European and Canadian allies in enforcing a UN resolution on Libya.
Clinton, speaking as French warplanes began operations to stop Muammar Gaddafi's attacks, said the United States would support the intervention in Libya. Asked if the aim was to overthrow Gaddafi, she did not answer the question directly but said the aim of Western powers was to protect civilians.
"If the international community is to have credibility ... then action must take place," Clinton told a news conference.
She added that Washington had yet to decide whether to follow France in formally recognising the rebel government in Benghazi.
US President Barack Obama, speaking in Brasilia on Saturday warned Gaddafi that the international community would act with urgency to shield Libyan rebels from his aggression unless the violence was stopped.
"Our consensus was strong and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians, our coalition is prepared to act and act with urgency," he said during a joint appearance with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opposes military action, was also present and said afterwards that Berlin also agreed that violence in Libya must end.
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Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Cameron: 'Gaddafi has lied to the int'l community'
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."