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Sat 12 Mar 2011 04:54 PM

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Arab League chief calls for no-fly zone over Libya

Amr Moussa gives interview to German magazine ahead of group meeting in Cairo

Arab League chief calls for no-fly zone over Libya
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa

Arab League chief Amr Moussa called for a no-fly zone over Libya in an interview with a German magazine on Saturday, ahead of the group meeting in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the proposal.

"I am speaking of a humanitarian action," he said in comments to Der Spiegel released on Saturday. "It is about assisting the Libyan people with a no-fly zone in their struggle for freedom against an increasingly inhuman regime."

"The Arab League can also play a role," said Moussa, who is stepping down as secretary-general after a decade, intending to contest the Egyptian presidency later this year.

European states hope the Arab League will lead the way in shaping policy, particularly over a no-fly zone, towards the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi.

The emergency ministerial session is also to consider a proposal to extend formal recognition to the Libyan rebel movement centred in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Outside the League's Cairo headquarters, about a hundred people held a protest against the Tripoli government, waving the pre-Gaddafi flag that has become a symbol of the revolt. "The people want to put the murderer on trial," they chanted.

Rich Gulf Arab states have already come out in support of a no-fly zone which Libyan rebels say is needed to protect them from Gaddafi's air force, though unanimous support for such a step by the 22-member Arab League is seen as unlikely.

States including Syria have appeared less critical of Gaddafi, while the view of Egypt, whose revolution helped ignite the Libya revolt, is unclear.

The position of Egypt, buoyed by the moral weight of the revolution that swept Hosni Mubarak from power, could prove crucial in swaying foreign states one way or the other.

NATO has cited firm regional support as one element required for the imposition of a no-fly zone on Libya.

European Union leaders agreed on Friday to consider all options to try to force Gaddafi to step down, but stopped short of endorsing air strikes, a no-fly zone or other military means.

The Arab League has appeared to adopt a tough line towards Gaddafi, suspending Libya over its handling of the uprising. The League said at a March 2 meeting that imposing a no-fly zone was an option for protecting Libyan civilians.

But the body is still in touch with the Tripoli government, League officials say. The League has also established contact with the rebel Libyan National Council, which is leading the revolt from Benghazi in the east.

In language reflecting the positions of some European governments, Gulf Arab ministers said on Thursday Gaddafi's administration had lost its legitimacy and called for measures including the imposition a no-fly zone.

On Thursday, France became the first Western nation to give its full backing to the rebel council. The European Union said it may also recognise the council if the Arab League were to do so. Germany has also said it wants to hear the Arab view.

The 27 EU members, meeting in Brussels on Friday, endorsed the Libyan National Council as "a political interlocutor".

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