World deeply divided over Libyan military action

Russian Prime Minister says authorisation for action resembles 'medieval calls for crusades'
World deeply divided over Libyan military action
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. (Getty Images)
By Reuters
Mon 21 Mar 2011 06:31 PM

The international community was

deeply divided over Libya on Monday, just days after the United

Nations passed a no-fly resolution that allowed Western air

strikes to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Russia and China abstained in Thursday's Security Council

vote on the no-fly zone but issued trenchant criticism of the

operation, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin comparing the

air campaign to "medieval crusades".

That highly emotive language earned him a rare rebuke from

his former protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president

saying Moscow would not participate in any military coalition in

Libya but was open to a peacekeeping role.

The divisions, which have affected European allies, NATO and

the Arab world, reflect diverse domestic agendas and foreign

policy goals.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa said he respected a UN

resolution authorising military action in Libya, having

questioned at the weekend the need for a heavy bombardment he

said had killed many civilians.

"We respect the U.N. resolution and there is no conflict

with it, especially as it indicated there would be no invasion

but that it would protect civilians from what they are subject

to in Benghazi," Moussa said.

The Western air campaign, led by France, the United States

and Britain, has divided NATO member states with Germany saying

the Arab League's criticism of the operation vindicated its

decision not to get involved.

"We calculated the risk. If we see that three days after

this intervention began, the Arab League already criticises

(it), I think we had good reasons," German Foreign Minister

Guido Westerwelle told reporters. "We see that we have reasons

for our concern."

The Arab world, too, was divided on the issue. Qatari

warplanes have joined the international strike force imposing

the no-fly zone. Iraq said it supported international

intervention, although influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada

al-Sadr condemned it and said Western states should avoid

civilian casualties.

Libyan rebels themselves have welcomed the air campaign,

which has, for now, halted the advance of Gaddafi's forces on

the rebels' stronghold in the eastern city of Benghazi.

It has not yet allowed them to break out towards Tripoli,

but the rebels say they want to take the capital themselves and

do not want foreign ground troops.

"The committee rejects foreign troops on the ground but we

encourage the (aerial) bombardments of Gaddafi's army," Ahmed

El-Hasi, a spokesman for the February 17 opposition coalition,

said in Benghazi.

The United States, with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has

ruled out sending in its forces and French Foreign Minister

Alain Juppe said Arab countries did not want the military

operation to be run by NATO.

Turkey, a key member of the Western military alliance, is

sceptical about any NATO role and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

said the military operation against Gaddafi's forces should end

as quickly as possible so Libyans could settle their own future.

"NATO should go in with the recognition and acknowledgement

that Libya belongs to the Libyans, not for the distribution of

its underground resources and wealth," he said on a visit to

Mecca, Islam's holiest city.

"Our biggest desire is for the Libyan people to determine

their own future."

Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba, whose country is a

member of the UN Security Council, said it had been hoped that

the resolution would lead to an immediate ceasefire.

"We are hoping that it is going to be a short campaign and

that will lead to a ceasefire and a situation where it will be

easier to find a solution, a peaceful solution, negotiated

rather than by way of force," he told Reuters.

China earlier stepped up its criticism of the Libya

operation, its official newspapers accusing countries involved

in the air campaign of breaking international rules and courting

new turmoil in the Middle East.

"It should be seen that every time military means are used

to address crises, that is a blow to the United Nations charter

and the rules of international relations," said a commentary in

the People's Daily.

Beijing's reservations were echoed in Moscow - both

capitals enjoy the power of veto in the UN Security Council as

permanent members - where Russia's paramount leader Putin said

the UN move on Libya "resembles medieval calls for crusades".

"What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention

itself - I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use

force are taken in international affairs," he said. "This is

becoming a persistent tendency in US policy," he added.

The comments earned a swift rejoinder from Medvedev, who

told reporters outside his Moscow residence: "In no way is it

acceptable to use expressions that in essence lead to a clash of

civilisations, such as crusades and so forth - this is

unacceptable."

It is rare for the two men to disagree publicly and it was

not immediately clear if the apparent spat reflected a genuine

disagreement, a difference in tone or a desire to speak to

different constituencies at home and abroad.

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