Friday, 18 March 2011

Libya declares ceasefire

 Muammar Gaddafi's government said it was declaring a unilateral ceasefire in its offensive to crush Libya's revolt, as Western warplanes prepared to attack his forces.

"We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations," foreign minister Moussa Koussa told reporters in Tripoli on Friday, after the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing military action. ( Read: Military action against Libya after UN vote: France )

He called for dialogue with all sides. Gaddafi had vowed to show "no mercy, no pity" on Thursday, and rebels pleaded for foreign aid before time ran out. They said the city of Misrata was being pounded by government forces on Friday morning. ( Read: Gaddafi vows 'no mercy' in attack on Benghazi )

France, a leading advocate of military action, said it was cautious about the ceasefire announcement and that the "threat on the ground has not changed."

Western officials said military action could include France, Britain, the United States and one or more Arab countries.

"Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as air-to-air refueling and surveillance aircraft," Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.

"Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can start to take the necessary action."

Gulf state Qatar said it would take part but it was unclear whether that meant military help, while Denmark said it planned to contribute warplanes. France is to host international talks on Saturday to discuss the action.

People in Misrata said the rebel-held western city was under heavy bombardment by Gaddafi's forces on Friday.

"They are bombing everything, houses, mosques and even ambulances," Gemal, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters by phone from the last big rebel stronghold in the west.

Another rebel named Saadoun said: "We believe they want to enter the city at any cost before the international community starts implementing the UN resolution.

"We call on the international community to do something before it's too late. They must act now."

A fighter named Mohammed said tanks were advancing on the city center. "All the people of Misrata are desperately trying to defend the city," he said.

Four people had been killed and 70 wounded, Al Arabiya television said. A government spokesman said the military operation should be completed on Friday.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Authorities were preventing Tripoli-based foreign journalists from reporting freely.

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