Libya move 'not an attack on Islam'

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David Cameron sought to reassure Muslim opinion about the Nato-led military operation in Libya today, telling students in Pakistan it was not an "attack on Islam".

The Prime Minister said the action not only had the backing of Arab countries and the United Nations but was designed to save the lives of innocent, mainly Muslim, civilians.

He rejected comparisons with the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and insisted it was "nonsense" that action against the Gaddafi regime was motivated by Western interests in Libya's oil.

Mr Cameron, on his first official visit to Pakistan as Premier, launched a robust defence of the UK's participation in a speech at the Islamabad Institute of Information Technology.

He said he recognised that some people looked at the UK's role in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya "and believe we're engaged in some sort of war against Islam".

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he told the audience.

"I don't think anyone can seriously argue that international action in Libya is an attack on Islam. Backed by the United Nations and the Arab League, we have taken action to protect people - predominantly Muslim people - from slaughter, just as we did in Kosovo over a decade ago."

It was simply not comparable with the Iraq campaign, he said, which inflamed anti-Western sentiment and is credited by critics with fuelling further extremism.

"There will be no foreign invasion, and Arab nations like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are actively contributing to the no-fly zone.

"And the argument that the West is acting because of oil is also nonsense.

"If this was the case, we could have let Gaddafi take Benghazi and Tobruk and the oil would have continued to flow. Instead, we took the difficult decision to stop Gaddafi."

The Libyan dictator had "promised to show no pity and no mercy to his people", he reminded them.

"He described them as rats and cockroaches, used tanks and artillery to hit their homes, and smashed mosques and minarets.

"The evidence emerging from Misrata shows only too clearly why civilians need protection from Gaddafi's forces. As one Libyan put it: 'These strikes give us hope'.

"And we won't take that hope away."

His speech came as the Libyan regime said it was ready to discuss reforms to the way the country was governed but Gaddafi would have to remain in place.

Asked if the UK could countenance that outcome, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Our position is very clear and remains the same: that Gaddafi must go and any solution, which certainly won't be dictated by us, must be acceptable to the Libyan people."

Mr Cameron's speech came as prosecutors investigating the Lockerbie bombing said they expected to meet Libyan defector Musa Kusa later this week.

Police and prosecutors said steps were being taken to arrange the appointment with the former foreign minister "in the next few days".

Mr Kusa, who it is believed was an intelligence officer at the time of the 1988 atrocity, arrived in the UK last week after abandoning Gaddafi's regime.

Scottish investigators are expected to question him over the bombing after discussions with Foreign Office officials yesterday.

In a round of TV interviews later in Islamabad, Mr Cameron said: "My view is very clear, there is no future for Libya that involves Colonel Gaddafi still being at the helm.

"How could there be when he's literally been trying to butcher his own people?"