NATO imperialist allies were split on Wednesday over deploying a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya’s skies, with fears raised about angering the ‘Arab street’ in what would be a complex operation requiring bombing raids.
France – unlike the US – sees a need for UN backing on NATO intervention in Libya.
As forces loyal to Muammar Gadaffi reportedly launched attacks on rebel-controlled towns in eastern Libya, ambassadors from the 28-nation alliance’s decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, were to discuss the Libyan upheaval at a regular meeting in Brussels, a NATO official said.
The United States and Britain have raised the possibility of creating a no-fly zone, with London claiming that a UN mandate was not necessarily needed.
France however has insisted any military action would require UN backing.
‘There is no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed forces,’ US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in Washington.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe raised concerns about how any operation would be viewed in the Arab world.
‘I don’t know what would be the reaction on the Arab street, if Arabs around the Mediterranean saw NATO forces landing on southern Mediterranean territory,’ Juppe said. ‘I think that could be extremely counter-productive.’
Turkey, an influential NATO member with a majority Muslim population, rejected the idea of military action in Libya, saying the alliance could only intervene when one of its members is attacked.
‘This would be absurd,’ Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit in Germany this week, ‘NATO has no business being there.’
‘We are opposed to such a scenario. Such an eventuality is unthinkable,’ he said.
The United States has not ruled out enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya but the military warned this would first require bombing the radar and missile defences.
‘It wouldn’t simply be telling people not to fly airplanes,’ said General James Mattis, head of the US Central Command.
During a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said an aerial mission over Libya would be complicated because of humanitarian operations on the ground, according to a European diplomat.
Backed by US military firepower, NATO has a vast list of assets available to undertake a complex mission.
Germany hosts a fleet of AWACS, large radar and surveillance aircraft that can monitor the skies, while US bases in Italy could serve as a staging area for operations.
The military alliance enforced a UN-mandated no-fly zone once before in Bosnia during the Balkans war in the early 1990s.
Rasmussen too has made clear that any alliance involvement in a no-fly zone in Libya would require UN approval.
Winning a UN mandate could prove difficult, with the foreign minister of Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, dismissing talk of a no-fly zone as ‘superfluous’.
l Meanwhile, three ministers quit Tunisia’s interim govt in a day on Tuesday, with five ministers, standing down from the country’s interim government over 48 hours, following the prime minister’s departure on Sunday.
Tunisia’s minister for economic and social reform became the third minister in the space of a day to quit the country’s interim government.
The departure of Elyes Jouini followed those of Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the Ettajdid party, who had served as an education minister, and local development minister Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, from the Progressive Democratic Party.
On Monday, industry and technology minister Mohamed Afif Chelbi and planning and international cooperation minister Mohamed Nouri Jouini, both of whom had served under the regime of authoritarian president Zinr El Abidine Ben Ali, left their posts.
The interim government’s prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, who held the same post under Ben Ali, quit on Sunday after clashes at weekend demonstrations left five people dead.
‘I am not ready to be the person who takes decisions that would end up causing casualties,’ Ghannouchi said.
He was swiftly replaced as prime minister by 84-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi, who had served under Habib Bourguiba who was president from 1957 to 1987.
The government included several figures from Ben Ali’s regime and, even though it announced unprecedented freedoms and opened the way for the unbanning of certain groups and for exiles to return, protests continued to demand they also leave.
Opposition groups including parties, the UGTT union and civil society – coalescing into a Council for the Protection of the Revolution – continued to press demands including for the establishment of a constituent assembly.
Ahmed Ibrahim said he quit in the belief that he ‘could better serve the revolution by being outside of the government’.
‘The Ettajdid movement will have full freedom to act to contribute to the democratic transition,’ he said.
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, announced his departure at a news conference criticising the ‘hesitation and fuzziness’ of the interim authority.
Announcing his resignation, Chebbi said the new prime minister had indicated to him that the caretaker government did plan to form the assembly, which would be tasked with drawing up a new constitution.
‘Mr Caid Essebsi told me that the government has decided to fold itself into the Council for the Protection of the Revolution. There will not be a presidential election but one for a constituent assembly,’ he said.
The council also wants the entire government and the two chambers of parliament to be dissolved ahead of elections to form a new government.
Chebbi also alleged there were elements in the system who were ‘clearing the way for a failure of the revolution, which has been peaceful until now, to allow a military coup’.
In another post-Ben Ali adjustment, the Islamist movement Ennahda (Awakening) announced that it had finally been granted legal status, 30 years after it was formed and following its banning and persecution by the previous regime.
‘We are entering in a new phase of national action… to contribute to the building of a democratic regime,’ spokesman Ali El-Aryadh said after Ennahda had received notification that it had been legalised.
Thousands of Islamist activists and sympathisers were arrested in the 1990s and many went into exile as Ben Ali’s authoritarian government presented itself as a bulwark against fanaticism.
Amnesty International meanwhile called on the new interim government to investigate the security forces involved in a brutal crackdown on the protests against Ben Ali, which the United Nations said killed more than 200 people.
‘These are murders that must be the object of a full, transparent and impartial investigation,’ Denys Robiliard said, presenting a report detailing killings and acts of brutality by security forces in the revolt.