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Libya no-fly zone plans 'advancing'

The international community could move "very, very quickly" to send warplanes to protect the Libyan population from continuing aerial bombardment by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi security forces, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Following meetings in Brussels of EU foreign ministers and Nato defence ministers, Mr Hague said preparations for imposing a military no-fly zone over Libya were in a "very advanced stage".

He said if evidence emerged of a major atrocity committed by the Libyan dictator against his own people, the international demand for action could swiftly pick up.

"Clearly if there were to be large-scale bombing attacks which the world could see and understand and could be verified on civilians, on populated areas in Libya, then that would massively strengthen the case for the introduction of a no-fly zone," he told the BBC.

"It can now be done very, very quickly because Britain and France have done the work at the UN Security Council on preparing a resolution, which we would then put for agreement with other nations.

"Nato is doing the planning on, in practice, what would you do, although of course it may involve many other nations if it happens apart from Nato. I think we are at a very advanced stage of that."

Earlier however, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen struck a notably more cautious tone, saying that defence ministers had simply discussed the "initial options" for a no-fly zone.

He also again emphasised there would have to be a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council - a point echoed by US Defence Secretary Roberts Gates who said that the existing resolution 1970 did not authorise the use of force.

Pressure on the Gaddafi regime was ratcheted up in a flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of Friday's emergency summit of European Union leaders, including David Cameron, in Brussels.

Nato announced it was repositioning warships in the Mediterranean to improve monitoring of the situation in Libya, and urged Gaddafi's government "to stop violence and allow a peaceful transition to democracy".

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