Britain and France alone as EU rejects no-fly zone

European leaders have locked horns over the handling of the crisis in Libya during emergency talks in Brussels yesterday, with France and Britain looking isolated in their push for military intervention.

A communiqué from the EU noticeably failed to mention possible no-fly zones. Britain and France had pushed hard for the document to declare an explicit backing for such action.

Appearing frustrated, David Cameron said: "Every day that [Gaddafi] goes on brutalising his own people is bad for humanity and is a bad day for people in Libya, and we need to stand by those people who want a better future. That future cannot include Col Gaddafi. We need to continue with planning."

Several Eastern European countries, as well as Germany, refused to move on the issue, which has been repeatedly raised as a possibility by Britain and France. After a day of tense discussions among the bloc's 27 leaders, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "I see no need for military intervention."

The EU did not rule out the possibility of sanctioning force, but stressed it would do so only with the support of the United Nations and the Arab League. The Arab League meets in Cairo today, and is not expected to support a no-fly zone. "We expect Syria and Algeria to be against," said one European diplomat. Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, are likely to back a no-fly zone; such a move, they hope, will help to mollify restless populations at home. Russia and China, members of the UN Security Council, have also both indicated reluctance to approve military action.

Attempts at presenting a show of unity during the summit were trampled on by the French President, under fire both for his hawkish military calls and also for his decision a day earlier to grant diplomatic recognition to Libya's opposition Interim Governing Council.

The Council is made up of opposition leaders in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi but EU diplomats say the members are still largely unknown. The move was slammed by the Dutch Prime Minister as "crazy". Mark Rutte said common diplomatic practice was to "recognise countries, not governments".

Mr Sarkozy said he stood by his "wise decision", adding: "As far as I am concerned, it's the Council we are now speaking to. Other countries may prefer to wait until its make-up becomes more stable. And anyway, what choice do we have?"

Ultimately, it would most likely fall on Nato to mount any potential military action such as imposing a no-fly zone. But Nato defence ministers urge caution, stressing the need for a legal mandate and support from regional partners.

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