Libya military action under way
The first shots have been fired by military forces imposing a no-fly zone over Libya as the international community swung into action against Muammar Gaddafi.
The show of strength against the Libyan leader began when a French jet attacked and destroyed a military vehicle belonging to his army. Around 20 French Rafale and Mirage warplanes were sent to patrol the skies over the city of Benghazi after the rebel stronghold came under assault by forces loyal to Gaddafi in violation of United Nations resolutions.
The final decision to launch military action was taken at an emergency summit in Paris attended by world leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who declared that "the time for action has come".
Along with European and North American allies, a number of Arab nations signed up to a communique pledging "all necessary action" to bring an end to the "grave and massive violations of humanitarian law" being committed by Gaddafi against his own people.
Mr Cameron said: "Gaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire, he continues to brutalise his people, and so the time for action has come."
The launch of military operations follows Thursday's passage of United UN Security Council resolution 1973, which authorised any measures short of foreign occupation to protect civilians in Libya. The regime declared a ceasefire in response, but this appeared to have little effect on the ground, and the urgency of the situation was heightened on Saturday morning when Gaddafi's troops entered Benghazi.
A warplane filmed crashing in flames over the city appears to have been an opposition fighter accidentally shot down by its own side. There were also reports of Libyan civilians massing as "human shields" around sites which might be targeted in capital Tripoli.
Declaring the start of military operations, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gaddafi against the population of Benghazi. As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town. As of now, other French aircraft are ready to intervene against tanks, armoured vehicles threatening unarmed civilians."
Later, Mr Cameron confirmed British air forces had gone into action over Libya, hailing the military action as "necessary, legal and right".
The Prime Minister said: "It is necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent him using his military against his own people. It is legal, because we have the backing of the United Nations Security Council and also the Arab League and many others. And it is right because we believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people."