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World Politics

G8 avoids Libya no-fly zone debate

Prospects of the swift establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya receded today after members of the G8 group failed to give their backing at a summit in Paris.

Britain has joined with France to push for military intervention by the international community to stop dictator Muammar Gaddafi using his air power to bombard towns held by the opposition.

But while the G8 today welcomed an Arab League call to protect civilians, a communique issued by foreign ministers following the summit made no mention of a no-fly zone.

The document is understood to state only that Libyans have a right to democracy and that Gaddafi faces "dire consequences" if he ignores citizens' rights.

Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged that not all G8 nations see "eye-to-eye" on a no-fly zone, but said the meeting had shown a "strong appetite" for further discussion at the United Nations Security Council over measures to put pressure on Gaddafi.

"There was a strong welcome for the statement of the Arab Leagues for measures to protect the civilian population in Libya," said Mr Hague as the two-day talks came to an end.

"How we do that is going to require further discussion, including at the UN Security Council, and that has been recognised in our meeting here today."

He added: "We are all in the same situation that we want to increase the pressure on Gaddafi, to tighten sanctions on Gaddafi. There is common ground on that here in the G8.

"While not every nation sees eye-to-eye on issues such as a no-fly zone, there is a common appetite to increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime.

"There is a common sense of being appalled by what is being done in the name of the Gaddafi regime and a clear appetite for further discussion at the UN Security Council about what we do."

Reports suggested that Germany and Russia combined to block mention of a no-fly zone in today's communique by the G8 group, which also includes Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said: "Military intervention is not the solution. From our point of view it is very difficult and dangerous.

"We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa and we would not like to step on a slippery slope where we all are at the end in a war."

The UK and France have circulated a draft Security Council resolution in New York which would authorise the imposition of a no-fly zone, though it was unclear when this might be tabled.

It is thought to be facing opposition from permanent Security Council members Russia and China, while the US has also expressed reluctance to get involved in military action.

Mr Hague said that the international community was reaching a point of decision over Libya, where Gaddafi's forces appear to be gaining the upper hand over rebels who had seized most of the east of the country.

Gaddafi today consolidated his stronghold around Tripoli by seizing Zwara, the last rebel-held town west of the capital, after a heavy barrage of tank and artillery fire.

Opposition forces were also coming under pressure from a blockade of Libya's third city Misrata, 125 miles south-east of Tripoli.

Mr Hague said it would be bad for countries around the world if Gaddafi clung to power by force.

"As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, it is in the national interest of the UK and indeed of European nations and many countries across the world for Libya to move in a direction of greater peace and order," he said.

It was against the UK's interests to have Libya "as a pariah state with such crimes being committed inside it, with all the consequences that could mean for the countries on its borders that are themselves in a fragile condition, such as Egypt and Tunisia".

Prime Minister David Cameron this morning briefed Cabinet on the latest situation in Libya.

His spokesman later told reporters: "Our view is that the situation continues to be very serious. We are monitoring it closely.

"Gaddafi is continuing to brutalise his own people and is ignoring the will of the international community. There are multiple breaches of UN resolution 1970 which called for an immediate end to the violence.

"We have also got concerns about the policing of the arms embargo and the use of mercenaries.

"The Prime Minister is very clear that we should bring more pressure to bear on the regime and should be seriously considering a no-fly zone."

Asked what response there should be to Libya's breach of the existing resolution, the spokesman said: "There's no point having a UN Security Council resolution if you don't then ensure that that is complied with."