Libyan dissidents debate airstrike request

March 1, 2011 at 8:06 PM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, March 1 (UPI) -- A council of top dissidents in Libya debated Tuesday whether to request Western airstrikes on key Libyan military assets, The New York Times reported.

Citing four people familiar with the discussions, the newspaper said members of the council -- including prominent legal and academic figures -- were considering asking for airstrikes under a United Nations aegis. A spokesman for the council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, did not comment on the internal discussions but he told the Times the group opposes a foreign intervention in the crisis.

The United Nations General Assembly Tuesday suspended Libya from the U.N. Human Rights Council for what it called "gross and systematic" human rights violations because of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's violent repression of peaceful protesters demanding his ouster, the U.N. News Center said.

Forces loyal to Gadhafi attacked a town near Tripoli controlled by the opposition Monday night but were repelled, an opposition leader said. Tanks and anti-aircraft guns of pro-Gadhafi troops attacked Zawiya but did not capture the town, CNN reported Tuesday.

Zawiya remains in opposition hands although Gadhafi's forces are still outside it, opposition sources said.

In London, the Libyan Embassy announced it was siding with the opposition, condemning what it called "all acts of murder and terror " taking place in Libya.

U.S. warships approached Libya Tuesday, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Gadhafi to surrender power immediately. The U.S. military deployment from the Red Sea includes an aircraft carrier strike group, with planes and helicopters, and an amphibious landing vessel, with Marines and helicopters, the Pentagon said.

Clinton told Gadhafi to surrender power "now, without further violence or delay." She said Washington was keeping "all options on the table" to protect Libya's civilian population and encourage a transition to a representative government.

The Obama administration announced it had seized $30 billion in Libyan assets -- a U.S. record -- and the European Union adopted an arms embargo and other sanctions.

British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered contingency plans for Britain to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya in coordination with NATO allies. Cameron also suggested Britain would consider arming Libyan opposition forces if Tripoli used more violence to crush demonstrations, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

France dispatched two aircraft filled with medical and humanitarian supplies to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, the start of what it said would be "a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories."

The aid, including medicine and doctors, would be the first direct Western help for the uprising, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Europe's RTL radio.

Paris was studying "all solutions," including military options, Fillon said.

All 27 EU leaders are expected to hold an emergency summit in Brussels next week if the violence persists.

Officials in Washington and elsewhere said direct military action remained unlikely. The moves serve as a warning to Gadhafi and a show of support to the protesters seeking to overthrow his government, the officials told the Times.

Still, additional U.N. Security Council meetings would likely be held this week, officials said, and the pressure for direct military action would intensify if the Libyan bloodshed and suffering further escalated, The Guardian said.

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