UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted on Thursday to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” -- code for military action -- to protect civilians against leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
Ten of the council’s 15 member states voted in favor of the resolution, with Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstaining. The resolution was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States.
The adoption of the resolution after days of closed-door negotiations could lead to a dramatic escalation of international involvement in a conflict that erupted last month between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and rebels trying to topple him.
A French diplomatic source told reporters in Paris ahead of the vote that any military action could include France, Britain, possibly the United States and one or more Arab states.
“Once the resolution is voted, an operation could start within several hours,” the source said.
Anti-Gaddafi protesters in Benghazi cheered and let off fireworks on Friday to celebrate the vote, Al Jazeera television showed.
France, which drafted the final version of the resolution, had pressed the council to act fast, saying it could otherwise be too late to stop Gaddafi from crushing his opponents.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who flew to New York to be present for the vote, told reporters “France is ready, with others, to put the Security Council resolution into effect,” suggesting this could include air strikes.
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Apart from the military measures, the resolution also expands sanctions against Gaddafi and his inner circle imposed in a Feb. 26 Security Council resolution.
Among the Libyan firms whose assets the resolution orders frozen are the Libyan National Oil Corp. and the central bank, which the resolution said were “under control of (Gaddafi) and his family” and a “potential source of funding for his regime.”
‘ALL NECESSARY MEASURES’
The resolution bans all flights over Libya except for humanitarian flights.
It allows U.N. member states that have notified the United Nations and Arab League “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in (Libya), while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
The French-led rush to get a no-fly zone authorized at the United Nations came as Libyan troops advanced toward the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi and launched air raids on its outskirts.
The council imposed a no-fly zone over Bosnia in the 1990s, although some analysts say the measure did nothing to stop massacres like the 1995 slaughter of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica.
Libya’s defense minister warned any attack on his country would endanger air and sea traffic in the Mediterranean. Gaddafi told Benghazi residents in a radio address that “we are coming tonight ... there won’t be any mercy.”
A spokesman for Gaddafi’s government, Mussa Ibrahim, said any U.N.-approved action “would be illegal and immoral. It’s an armed rebellion. Any country would’ve fought against that. They are basing their decision on media reports.”
The United States, in a sharp shift in tone, recently began urging the United Nations to authorize not just a no-fly zone to aid Libyan rebels but also air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery, U.S. officials said.
Washington originally reacted cautiously to calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, with some officials concerned it could be ineffective or politically damaging. It has insisted Arab nations actively participate in any such action over Libya.
Diplomats said they understood that among Arab League members, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar were prepared to take part in enforcing the no-fly zone, along with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London, John Irish in Paris and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Eric Beech, Bill Trott and Todd Eastham)