NATO prepares Libya offensive, 46 killed in Yemen bloodbath


TRIPOLI/SANAA – Muammar Gaddafi’s government said it was declaring a unilateral ceasefire in its offensive to crush Libya’s revolt on Friday, while Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced a state of emergency after medics said 46 people were killed when pro-regime loyalists and police opened fire on protesters in Sanaa.
Libyan government troops pounded the rebel-held western city of Misrata, killing at least 25 people including children and injuring at least 200, a doctor said. Residents said there was no sign of a ceasefire despite the government’s declaration which came after Western warplanes prepared to attack Gaddafi’s forces. And in the rebel-controlled east, the government declaration was dismissed as a ruse or a sign Gaddafi was desperate.
“We have to be very cautious. He is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” a French spokesman said. Britain, like France a strong advocate of armed action, said it would judge Gaddafi by “actions, not his words”. Turkey, an opponent of military action, said the ceasefire should go into effect immediately.
“We decided on an immediate ceasefire and on an immediate stop to all military operations,” Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa told reporters, after the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorising military action. He called for dialogue with all sides. Gaddafi had vowed to show “no mercy, no pity” on Thursday, and rebels pleaded for foreign aid before time ran out.
US President Barack Obama warned Gaddafi to comply with UN demands for a cease-fire or face consequences that included military action. The ceasefire offer was probably prompted by Gaddafi’s realisation that airstrikes could seriously degrade the Libyan military, said John Drake, senior risk consultant at AKE. “The Gaddafi regime may be willing to negotiate,” he told Reuters.
“With talk of strikes against military convoys he may be concerned about a significant attack on his military.” Western officials said military action could include France, Britain, the US and one or more Arab countries. “Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft,” Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.
“Preparations to deploy these aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can start to take the necessary action.” Gulf state Qatar said it would take part but it was unclear whether that meant military help, while Italy said it would make military bases, equipment and troops available. Denmark and Canada said they planned to contribute warplanes. France is to host talks on Saturday to discuss the action with British, Arab League and other leaders.
Yemen: Meanwhile, Yemeni President Saleh said the national security council announced a state of emergency across the country. Witnesses said pro-Saleh “thugs” opened fire on protesters from rooftops near the square at Sanaa University, where demonstrators calling for the fall of the president have been encamped since February 21.
An AFP correspondent later saw police firing at protesters as well. A 14-year-old boy was shot in the head in front of him. Obama also strongly condemned violence in Yemen, calling on his key anti-terror ally to live up to a pledge to allow peaceful protests and engage with the opposition. Saleh expressed his “regret” at the bloodshed, describing the victims as “martyrs of democracy” and accusing those responsible of trying to undermine a peace initiative backed by Saudi Arabia.
“What happened today was very regrettable, the death of our children,” he added, a week after saying he had ordered his security forces to ensure the safety of protesters. Saleh denied to reporters that police had fired any shots, while Interior Minister Mutahar al-Masri said they had intervened only after protesters “made several attempts to break into houses because they were trying to expand in the neighbourhood”.