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Libya closes airspace to aviation traffic

The Libyan government has announced an immediate ceasefire in its offensive against rebels who have seized large areas of the country. The announcement came as a coalition of Western and Arab nations prepared for air strikes against Libyan forces.

Before the ceasefire announcement, heavy fighting was ongoing across the country.

Rebels said government forces had been bombarding the western city of Misrata.

Military action short of an occupation was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday evening.

Eurocontrol also confirmed Libya had closed all airspace to international aviation traffic in a move designed to thwart attempts to implement a no-fly zone over the country.

Europe’s air navigation organisation announced the closure following a decision by the United Nations to approve “all necessary measures”, short of invasion, to protect civilians in the country.

Following the UN vote, Great Britain, France and the United States planned a no-fly zone over Libya.

Introducing the resolution, the foreign minister of France, Alain Juppé, said: “The situation on the ground is more alarming than ever, marked by the violent re-conquest of cities that have been released.

The Security Council could not stand by and “let the warmongers flout international legality”, he added.

The world was experiencing “a wave of great revolutions that would change the course of history”, but the will of the Libyan people had been “trampled under the feet of the Qadhafi regime”. 

The news comes amid reports of Libyan forces undertaking a sustained anti-rebel operation in the western town of Misratah.

Saif Gaddafi, the son of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, also said “anti-terror” forces will be sent into Benghazi to disarm rebel forces in the eastern Libyan city.

United Nations

Resolution 1973 (2011) was adopted by a vote of ten in favour to none against, with five abstentions - Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russia.

The representatives of China and the Russian Federation, explaining their abstentions, prioritised peaceful means of resolving the conflict and said that many questions had not been answered in regard to provisions of the resolution, including, as the Russian representative put it, how and by whom the measures would be enforced and what the limits of the engagement would be. 

He said the resolution included a sorely needed ceasefire, which he had called for earlier.

China had not blocked the action with a negative vote in consideration of the wishes of the Arab League and the African Union, its representative said.

The resolution would permit air strikes on Libyan ground troops or allow attacks on Libyan war ships if they were attacking civilians.