UN Security Council approves no-fly zone over Libya

United Nations: UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution approving a no-fly zone over Libya and authorising "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in the strife-torn African country as the Western forces started planning for concerted efforts to ensure its implementation.

Ten of the 15-member body voted in favour of the resolution which also calls for an immediate ceasefire in Libya. Five nations — China, Russia (which have veto power) and non-permanent members India, Germany and Brazil — abstained from voting.

Soon after the passage of resolution, US President Barack Obama called up his French counterpart Nocolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss on the enforcement of the UNSC resolution in Muammar Gaddafi-ruled Libya.

"The leaders agreed that Libya must immediately comply with all terms of the resolution and that violence against the civilian population of Libya must cease… (they) agreed to coordinate closely on next steps and to continue working with Arab and other international partners to ensure the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions on Libya," the White House said in a statement.

The resolution also widens previous sanctions by imposing asset freezes for seven more of Gaddafi`s supporters and five more entities including state-owned Libyan companies.

The sanctions included an arms embargo, an asset freeze and travel ban on Gaddafi and his loyalists, and a referral to the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

After the passage of the resolution, which excludes "a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory," European Union asked Gaddafi to relinquish power immediately and rapidly embark on an orderly transition to democracy through broad-based dialogue.

"The European Council has called on Col Gaddafi to relinquish power immediately and urged Libya to rapidly embark on an orderly transition to democracy through broad-based dialogue," president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said.

In a statement, they said European Council of 24-25 March and the Foreign Affairs Council of 21 March will discuss the situation in Libya and adopt the necessary decisions.

"We must ensure that we continue to coordinate closely, together with the UN, the Arab League, the African Union and other international partners on how we can best contribute as soon as possible to the implementation of the decisions of the Security Council," the EU statement stated.

The UN action came as the Libyan leader threatened to launch the final attack to push out rebels from Benghazi, the second largest city of the country. "We are coming tonight," Gaddafi has told rebel forces. "There won`t be any mercy."

Last week, the Arab League called for a no-fly zone to be established in Libya and the resolution, co-authored by Britain and France, was tabled by Lebanon on Tuesday.

"We cannot let these war-mongers do this," Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, told the Security Council.

"We have very little time… we should not arrive too late."

Meanwhile, media reports from the ground suggested that news of the UN resolution had been welcomed in Benghazi.

Celebratory gunfire rang out in the city and imams at mosques shouted "God is greatest, God is greatest."

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya`s deputy envoy to the UN who had turned against Gadhafi, called for the resolution to be implemented "immediately."

However, India that abstained from voting said "This resolution calls for far-reaching measures but we never got answers to very basic questions… This entire exercise has been based on less than complete information."

"Passing a resolution is an interactive process…if countries have doubts…you try to remove them," Indian envoy to UN Hardeep Singh Puri told PTI. "I?m afraid that the two countries leading the process (UK and France) did not make the required effort."

China`s top diplomat in the UN Li Baodong also had similar apprehensions. "Many of those questions failed to be clarified or answered."

On the India and China queries, Susan Rice, US envoy to the UN, clarified it was impossible to answer all the questions given that the Council had to act quickly. "We spent many hours going over these issues," she told reporters.

The current resolution also calls for an immediate ceasefire, which Russia had earlier proposed as a smaller resolution. But it never came to a vote because key countries felt that only a ceasefire resolution lacked teeth and would not deter Gaddafi.

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy, warned "outside force" could destabilise the Middle East and North African region and described the resolution as "unfortunate and regrettable."

India also raised apprehensions on widening of sanctions on Libya. Manjeev Singh Puri, India`s deputy envoy to the UN, told the Security Council the international community had to "mitigate and not exacerbate" the situation, and widening sanctions could hurt the economic interest of the Libyan people.

But, his Libyan counterpart Dabbashi did not find this concern valid – "It has nothing to do with the Libyan people."

Mark Lyall Grant, the UK envoy to the UN, welcomed the vote and "Today?s resolution puts the weight of the Security Council squarely behind the Libyan people."

Grant`s sentiment was echoed by Rice who said, "Today the Security Council has responded to the Libyan people`s cry for help."