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Nato mission in disarray as criticisms mount

Obama admits ‘stalemate’ on the ground as France seeks fresh UN resolution

The international mission in Libya appeared to be running out of momentum yesterday as Barack Obama admitted the situation on the ground had reached a military "stalemate" and France conceded a new UN resolution might be necessary to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power.

As the regime's rockets continued to hit the beleaguered rebel town of Misrata and Nato forces struck Colonel Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, France and Britain were still struggling to persuade other members of the organisation to provide additional warplanes. A meeting of member countries in Berlin yesterday broke up without any guarantee that military leaders would get the new resources they have asked for.

President Obama insisted that Colonel Gaddafi would ultimately be forced from power. But France's call for attacks to begin on strategic logistical targets that have previously been off-limits emphasised that parts of the coalition have become resigned to the idea that the status quo offers no prospect of the rapid victory that had been hoped for.

The French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet's suggestion that a new resolution would be necessary to achieve Nato's goals threatened further to anger opponents of the conflict. Arguing that ousting Colonel Gaddafi would "certainly" be beyond the scope of the current resolution, Mr Longuet said that the position outlined in a joint editorial by Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Mr Obama, insisting that they would fight until Colonel Gaddafi was forced out, required a new agreement.

"I think that three major countries saying the same thing is important to the UN," he said. "Perhaps one day the Security Council will adopt a resolution." But British officials reacted coolly to the French proposal. They insisted that the purpose of the operation had not shifted to one of "regime change".

In Britain, Downing Street rebuffed a call by five MPs for Parliament's three-week Easter recess to be interrupted for a debate on the stalemate on Libya.

"I feel that the mission in Libya has changed quite significantly," said John Baron, the Conservative MP. "When it was put before the House, the emphasis was very much on humanitarian assistance. This has changed into a mission of regime change."

David Davis, a former shadow home secretary for the Conservatives, said that he supported the Government's actions, but they went beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone approved by Parliament. "The simple truth is that Parliament did not authorise the next phase," he told the BBC.

Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour MP, added: "Britain and Nato are making a habit of wars with questionable legality or justification. The West seems to have no interest in a political solution and is prepared for a military campaign which now clearly focuses on regime change."

John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, has the power to recall Parliament, but only at the request of a minister. Before the House rose last week, Sir George Young, the Commons Leader, said the Government would do so "if circumstances require it".

In Libya, in contrast, a trickle of military supplies and fresh evidence of a long-term commitment to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi appeared to be encouraging rebel leaders. As the missiles rained down on Misrata, rebel militiamen appeared to be receiving European-made Milan anti-tank missiles, to judge by the packing cases, as well as hand-held radios. There are also signs that they are more closely in touch with Nato and better able to call on Nato airpower to aid the bands of militiamen on the road out of Ajdabiya.

Additional military supplies for the rebels are not going to change the military balance in the short term. Their militiamen are ill-trained and few in number. The military effectiveness of their fighters entirely depends on Nato. Without air strikes, pro-Gaddafi forces could probably take Benghazi without too much difficulty.

The rebel enclave centred on Benghazi also faces shortages, but can look to relief in terms of supplies and money. For the moment life looks normal, but government offices, schools, construction sites and many businesses are shut.

In Tripoli, Colonel Gaddafi's daughter Aisha told a demonstration that "talk about Gaddafi stepping down is an insult, because Gaddafi is not in Libya, but in the hearts of all Libyans".

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