QATARI Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, on Sunday, trying to defend his country’s participation in military operations against Libya, said the aim was to ‘stop the blood bath’.
An international coalition began strikes in Libya with combat jets and cruise missiles on Saturday, aiming to stop Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi from fighting a rebellion launched on February 15 against his rule by imperialist agents.
‘Qatar is participating in the military action because it is necessary for Arab states to take part,’ Sheikh Hamad, who is also foreign minister, said.
‘The situation is untenable in Libya. This is not a confrontation between protesters and police forces; it is an open war in which mercenaries are participating, and this must stop as soon as possible,’ Sheikh Hamad added.
However, he also said the operation ‘is not directed against the Libyan people, nor against the colonel Gadaffi and his sons. The important thing is to stop the blood bath.’
Qatar is the only Arab state to have promised on Saturday at an emergency meeting in Paris to participate in military operations in Libya.
A United Nations diplomat said the United Arab Emirates would also participate, but this has not been confirmed.
The United States has stressed the importance of Arab participation in the international effort.
The leader of the Arab League Amr Moussa however said on Sunday evening that he opposed the bombing of Libya.
He said that the League only supported a no-fly zone and was not in favour of stopping bombing one set of civilians in order to start bombing another set.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni human rights minister announced his resignation in protest at the gunning down of more than 50 anti-regime protesters, by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s security forces.
Muslim clerics have urged Yemeni soldiers to disobey orders and a third minister resigned after the gunning down of the protesters who were calling for an end to Saleh’s rule.
Leading clerics said Saleh was responsible for the slaughter following Muslim prayers in Sanaa on Friday, the worst day of bloodshed in more than a month of violent unrest.
‘We call on the army and security forces to not carry out any order from anyone to kill and repress’ demonstrators, a group of influential clerics in the deeply religious country said in a joint statement.
They also called for Saleh’s elite Republican Guard troops to be withdrawn from the capital, where anti-regime protesters have continued a sit-in near Sanaa University despite a state of emergency called after Friday’s violence.
Saleh, a key ally of the US, declared Sunday as a ‘national day of mourning’ for the ‘martyrs for democracy,’ while blaming the opposition for ‘incitement and chaos’ that had led to the killings.
Youth activists organising the sit-in panned Saleh’s declaration as insincere. ‘After getting blood on his hands he cried crocodile tears for the martyrs,’ they said in a statement.
The opposition says the president – a key US ally in the war against Al-Qaeda in the region – must resign this year but he has refused to leave until his current term expires in 2013.
He has also offered to devolve power to parliament under a new constitution, a pledge rejected as ‘too late’ by the opposition which says the president cannot be trusted to honour his promises.
Human rights minister Huda al-Baan announced late on Saturday that she was resigning in protest at Friday’s blood bath, where the under-secretary at her ministry, Ali Taysir, has also stepped down.
Baan became the third Yemeni minister to quit in as many days.
Minister of tourism Nabil al-Faqih resigned on Friday over the ‘unjustifiable use of force’ against protesters, while Yemen’s minister of religious endowments, Hamoud al-Hattar, quit earlier in the week.
The chief of the state news agency Saba has also stepped down, saying he would join the protesters, as has Yemen’s ambassador to Lebanon.
Friday’s carnage followed repeated US appeals for restraint and respect of human rights in the impoverished country, which is also struggling to contain a southern secessionist movement and a Shi’ite revolt in the north.
US President Barack Obama strongly condemned the crack-down and called on the key US anti-terror ally to live up to its own pledge to allow peaceful protests.
‘Those responsible for today’s violence must be held accountable,’ he said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was ‘dismayed’ by the violence and demanded Saleh stand by his own vow announced on March 10 to protect the right to peaceful protest.
Western diplomats have repeatedly issued similar calls since violence erupted a month ago in Yemen, where the death toll after Friday’s blood bath has doubled to around 80.
Rights activists have said the United States should reconsider its military aid to Yemen, where US special forces troops are helping to train local anti-terror units engaged in the fight against Al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based offshoot.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is allegedly behind several attempted attacks against the United States.
Yemen is also the suspected hideout of radical US-Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an alleged AQAP leader and described by a senior US security official as ‘probably the most significant risk’ to the United States.
A Bangladeshi Islamic militant working for British Airways was jailed for 30 years last Friday for plotting to blow up a plane after conspiring with Awlaki.
• Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi’s forces are ‘no longer marching on Benghazi,’ top US military commander Michael Mullen tried to boast on Sunday.
He added that the initial part of an international operation to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya ‘has been successful’.
The comments came after the United States unleashed a barrage of strikes against the Libya’s air defences, but ruled out using ground troops in what President Barack Obama called a ‘limited military action’.
In a show of force, US warships and a British submarine fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya against Gadaffi’s anti-aircraft missiles and radar on Saturday, the US military said.
Admiral William Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon that the cruise missiles ‘struck more than 20 integrated air defence systems and other’.
Early on Sunday, CBS News reported that three US B-2 stealth bombers had dropped 40 bombs on a major Libyan airfield in an attempt to destroy much of the Libyan Air Force.
Gadaffi said all Libya’s people have been armed and are ready to fight a ‘long war’ to defeat Western forces attacking his country, in a televised audio message on Sunday.
‘All the Libyan people are united. The Libyan men and women have been given weapons and bombs. You will not advance, you will not step on this land,’ said Gadaffi.
‘We promise you a long, drawn-out war with no limits,’ said the Libyan leader, who was speaking on state television for a second straight day without appearing in front of camera.
‘We are ready for a long war. You are not prepared for a long war in Libya. We are prepared. This is a very happy moment we are living.’
The leaders of Britain, France and the United States would ‘fall like Hitler . . . Mussolini,’ he warned. ‘All tyrants fall under the pressure of the populist masses.’
‘America, France, or Britain, the Christians that are in a pact against us today, they will not enjoy our oil . . . You are aggressors, you are animals,’ said Gadaffi.
‘We do not have to retreat from the battlefield because we are defending our land and our dignity,’ said the Libyan leader who has faced a month-long armed uprising focused in the east of the country.
Meanwhile Libyan state media said Western war-planes had bombed civilian targets in Tripoli, causing casualties. An army spokesman said strikes also hit fuel tanks feeding Misrata, east of Tripoli.