28 Feb 2011

Gaddafi denies airstrikes as UK leads Libya no-fly zone plan

As fighting near Tripoli intensifies and David Cameron calls on Gaddafi to “go now” Libya’s information minister tells Channel 4 News there is “no evidence of massacres and bodies in the streets”.

Pressure is growing on Gaddafi to stand down as leader of Libya (Getty)

Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi has denied using his airforce to attack protesters but said planes had instead bombed military sites and ammunition depots.

He made the comments in a TV interview with US network ABC during which he also insisted “all my people love me” and that he had been “abandoned” by the west in his fight against “terrorists”.

Speaking to Channel 4 News Gaddafi’s information minister Musa Ibrahim denied that thousands of Libyans had been killed by government forces.

He said: “We have in Tripoli more than 140 foreign correspondents who have been touring the city of Tripoli and the surrounding cities for days now.

“They have found no evidence of air bombardments of cities, no evidence of massacres and dead bodies in the streets.”

Several people were reportedly killed and others wounded after forces loyal to Gaddafi opened fire to disperse a protest in Tripoli on Monday. The protest in the Tajoura neighbourhood gathered close to 10,000 demonstrators, the Libyan newspaper Quryna said.

In response to a Channel 4 News report from the funeral of a man shot in the head, Mr Ibrahim said: “We believe that the people of Benghazi are with national unity and are hostages to these armed individuals. “We believe Libyan blood is very valuable, we will not shed Libyan blood, we want tribes, university professors, civil institutions to get into a dialogue to get the country out of this crisis peacefully.”

US repositions forces

The US military has confirmed it is repositioning naval and air forces around Libya. “We have planners working and various contingency plans and I think it’s safe to say as part of that we’re repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made .. to be able to provide options and flexibility,” said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Cameron says ‘go now’

David Cameron has put further pressure on Muammar Gaddafi to step down as leader of Libya. Speaking to parliament the he said that all measures would now be considered to force him to go.

“We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets,” Cameron said.

“We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people. In that context I have asked the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone.”

We need to take this opportunity to look again at our entire relationship with this region. David Cameron

David Cameron added that Britain should “look again at its entire relationship” with the Middle East following uprisings in the region.

Criticised last week for touring the Middle East with a group of arms manufacturers as Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi used defence equipment against his own people, Mr Cameron said it was time to challenge the “outdated notion democracy has no place in the Arab world”.

Gary Gibbon: Are we edging towards armed conflict? Probably not
Is the government really moving towards imposing a no-fly zone on Libya or just beating a drum?

David Cameron asked the military to go away and look into the idea at today's meeting of the National Security Council but experts say it's a very difficult operation to pull off in an area the size of Libya (David Cameron himself admitted as much in an answer in the Commons).

It's particularly difficult when you're talking about helicopters that can take to the air and land again much more quickly than you can get a Nato jet into the vicinity to deal with them. The track record of "no fly zones" is not perfect.

The Iraqi regime frequently breached them with short-hop flights and Serbia frequently breached them too. A No Fly Zone would, of course, need military allies, probably through Nato, and legal backing, through the UN.
Read more from Gary Gibbon

He added that it was not for Britain to “dictate how each country should meet the aspirations of its people” but the UK “must not remain silent in our belief that freedom and the rule of law are what best guarantee human progress and economic success”.

Read more: The Arab revolt and Middle East uprisings

He said: “Freedom of expression, a free press, freedom of assembly, the right to demonstrate peacefully: these are basic rights. And they are as much the rights of people in Tahrir Square as Trafalgar Square.

“They are not British or western values – but the values of human beings everywhere. So we need to take this opportunity to look again at our entire relationship with this region – at the billions of euros of EU funds, at our trade relationship, at our cultural ties.

“We need to be much clearer and tougher in linking our development assistance to real progress in promoting more open and plural societies.

“And we need to dispense once and for all with the outdated notion that democracy has no place in the Arab world.

“Too often in the past, we have made a false choice between so-called stability on the one hand and reform and openness on the other.

“As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse.