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Libya no-fly bid 'legal without UN'

The Government has signalled that the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya - to protect the civilian population from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's brutal crackdown - could go ahead without the backing of the United Nations.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said that while "ideally" such action would be sanctioned by a resolution of the UN Security Council, it was not necessarily essential.

"There have been occasions in the past when such a no-fly zone has had clear, legal, international justification even without a Security Council resolution," he told the BBC. "It depends on the situation on the ground."

His intervention came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed David Cameron's call for plans to be drawn up for a no-fly zone, saying that the idea was "superfluous". As one of the five permanent members, Russia is able to veto any resolution tabled at the Security Council.

Mr Hague acknowledged that the Cabinet would have to take "full legal advice" before embarking with allies on a no-fly zone without a Security Council mandate. "You would certainly need a very strong degree of international support," he said.

After Mr Cameron's dramatic announcement on Monday in the Commons that he had ordered military commanders to begin planning for no-fly zone, officials sought to play down suggestions that action was imminent. His official spokesman said: "Clearly there are certain sets of circumstances where a no-fly zone may be appropriate, but we are not at that stage."

Col Gaddafi's son, Saif, told Sky News: "We are a united Libya and not afraid. If they attack us, we are ready." He accused Mr Cameron of trying to orchestrate change across the Arab world, saying: "Everybody wants to be a hero, to be important in history but history should be built on concrete."

The Prime Minister's spokesman dismissed the remarks, saying that the regime was "losing all credibility and all authority".

Mr Hague welcomed an "unprecedented" resolution by the UN General Assembly in New York to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council.

"Suspension from the council puts yet more pressure on the Libyan regime to listen to the clear message of the international community - crimes will not go unpunished and will not be forgotten, there will be a day of reckoning and the reach of international justice is long," he said.

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