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Gulf states underline support for Libya action

The head of the Gulf's main political group said today that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates remain part of the coalition striking Libya, but stressed the mission seeks only to protect civilians.

The underlining of the Gulf states' backing for the multinational force follows criticism by the Arab League's chief over the heavy missile barrages by US and European forces against Libyan air defences, tanks and other targets.

"What is happening now is not an intervention. It is about protecting the people from bloodshed," said Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, secretary general of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council.

But he did not clarify the role of Qatar or the UAE in the Libyan operations or whether they have taken part in missions so far.

The statement came as US, British and French planes targeted Gaddafi's anti-aircraft sites for a second night and also destroyed a line of his tanks moving onto the rebel capital in eastern Libya.

Yesterday Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, raised questions about Arab participation in the coalition after saying the attacks go beyond the mandate to impose a no-fly zone to halt Libyan air raids on rebel strongholds. Libya has claimed dozens of civilians have been killed in the strikes by the US and European forces.

The UAE and Qatar also have joined Saudi-led forces in Bahrain to support the nation's embattled Sunni leadership after more than a month of anti-government protests led by the country's Shiite majority.

Mr Al-Attiyah said there was no timeline on the presence of the more than 1,500 Gulf troops in Bahrain - which has come under sharp criticism from Iran and its Shiite allies around the Middle East.

"The arrival of forces is not an act of repression," he claimed.

The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.