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 Libya declares cease-fire after UN vote

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PostSubject: Libya declares cease-fire after UN vote   Fri Mar 18, 2011 2:52 pm

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI and RYAN LUCAS, Associated Press Hadeel Al-shalchi And Ryan Lucas, Associated Press


1 hr 8 mins ago





TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya declared an immediate
cease-fire and promised to stop military operations Friday in a bid to
fend off international military intervention after the U.N. authorized a
no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" to prevent the regime from
striking its own people.
The announcement by Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa
followed a fierce attack by Gadhafi's forces against Misrata, the last
rebel-held city in the western half of the country. A doctor said at
least six people were killed.
The U.N. Security Council resolution, which was
passed late Thursday after weeks of deliberation, set the stage for
airstrikes, a no-fly zone and other military measures short of a ground
invasion. Britain announced that it would send fighter jets and France
was making plans to deploy planes, but the U.S. had yet to announce what
its role would be. NATO also held an emergency meeting.
With the international community mobilizing, Koussa
said the government would cease fire in line with the resolution,
although he criticized the authorization of international military
action, calling it a violation of Libya's sovereignty.
"The government is opening channels for true, serious
dialogue with all parties," he said during a news conference in
Tripoli, the capital.
The attack on Misrata, Libya's third-largest city,
came as the rebels were on the defensive in their eastern stronghold
after Gadhafi vowed to launch a final assault and crush the nearly
5-week-old rebellion against him.
The opposition expressed hope the U.N. resolution would help turn the tide in their favor after days of fierce fighting.
"We think Gadhafi's forces will not advance against
us. Our morale is very high now. I think we have the upper hand," Col.
Salah Osman, a former army officer who defected to the rebel side, said.
He was speaking at a checkpoint near the eastern town of Sultan.
Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

AFP/Patrick Baz

The Western powers faced pressure to act urgently
after weeks spent deliberation over what to do about Gadhafi as his
regime gained momentum. The U.S. has positioned a host of forces and
ships in the region, including submarines and destroyers and amphibious
assault and landing ships with some 400 Marines aboard. It also could
provide a range of surveillance assets.
In an interview with Portuguese television broadcast
just before the U.N. vote, Gadhafi pledged to respond harshly to
U.N.-sponsored attacks. "If the world is crazy," he said, "we will be
crazy, too."
The Libyan government closed its airspace to all traffic Friday, according to Europe's air traffic control agency, Eurocontrol.
Government tanks rolled into Misrata, 125 miles (200
kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, early Friday, shelling houses,
hospitals and a mosque for several hours before pulling back to the
city's outskirts, witnesses said. At least six people were killed,
raising the total death toll in two days of fighting to nine, a local
doctor said.
Misrata is the last rebel holdout in the western half
of the country after Gadhafi recaptured a string of other cities that
had fallen to the opposition early in the uprising that began Feb. 15.
Its fall would leave the country largely divided, with the rebels
bottled up in the east near the border with Egypt.
The city has been under a punishing blockade that has
prevented aid ships from delivering medicine and other supplies, the
doctor said.
"They haven't stopped shelling us for a week — we
sleep to shelling, and wake up to shelling. They are targeting houses
and hospitals," he said, adding the hospital had been overwhelmed.
"We have had to perform surgeries in the hallways
using the light from our cell phones to see what we're doing. We are
also using some clinics around the town, some only have 60 beds, which
isn't enough," he said.
Another doctor claimed Gadhafi's forces had
surrounded some neighborhoods and were shooting at people who ventured
out of their homes. "Militias used two ambulances to jump out of and
shoot at innocent people indiscriminately," he said.
The situation appeared to be calm in Benghazi.
Col. Osman said Gadhafi's forces had surrounded the nearby city of Ajdabiya, but rebels remained inside.
The shift toward international action reflected dramatic change on the
ground in Libya in the past week. The rebels, once confident, found
themselves in danger of being crushed by an overpowering pro-Gadhafi
force using rockets, artillery, tanks, warplanes. That force has
advanced along the Mediterranean coast aiming to recapture the
rebel-held eastern half of Libya.
Gadhafi troops encircled the city of Ajdabiya, the first in the path of
their march, but also had some troops positioned beyond it toward
Benghazi, the second largest Libyan city, with a population of about
700,000.
A large crowd in Benghazi was watching the vote on an outdoor TV
projection and burst into cheers, with green and red fireworks exploding
overhead. In Tobruk, east of Benghazi, happy Libyans fired weapons in
the air to celebrate the vote.
Libya's unrest began in Benghazi and spread east to Tripoli. Like others
in the Mideast, the uprising started with popular demonstrations
against Gadhafi, rejecting his 41 years of despotic and often brutal
rule. The tone quickly changed after Gadhafi's security in Tripoli
forcefully put down the gatherings there.
Soon rebel forces began arming themselves, quickly taking control of the
country's east centered on Benghazi. Some Libyan army units joined the
rebels, providing them with some firepower, but much less than Gadhafi's
remaining forces.
There are no reliable death tolls. Rebels say more than 1,000 people
have been killed in a month of fighting, while Gadhafi claims the toll
is only 150.
___
Lucas reported from Benghazi, Libya. Associated Press writers Slobodan
Lekic in Brussels and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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