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UN approves no-fly zone over Libya

The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution authorising a no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" to enforce it in order to protect civilians under threat of attack from the Libyan regime.

As dictator Muammar Gaddafi threatened an imminent assault on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and said his forces would show "no mercy", the UN gave the green light to an international military response.

The resolution was backed by 10 Security Council members, with five abstentions. President Barack Obama telephoned David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after the vote, the White House said.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the resolution called for an immediate ceasefire and was necessary to "avoid greater bloodshed".

The UK's three criteria for a no-fly zone - a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and broad regional support - were now all met, he said. "This places a responsibility on members of the United Nations and that is a responsibility to which the United Kingdom will now respond," he added.

The resolution also tightened sanctions and introduced measures to make it harder for Gaddafi to employ foreign mercenaries. But it rules out any foreign occupation force "of any form of any part of Libyan territory".

France confirmed it will take part in action authorised by the UN resolution. Government spokesman Francois Baroin told RTL radio that France "will participate" in operations, adding: "The French, who led the calls, will of course be consistent with military intervention."

Meanwhile, Norway's defence minister, Grete Faremo, told the newspaper Verdens Gang: "We will contribute to the operation, but it is too early to say exactly in what way. Sending air capabilities would be natural."

The news of the Security Council resolution was greeted with scenes of wild celebration in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi - thought to be the next target of the regime's counter-offensive.

But Gaddafi's son Saif reacted with defiance, telling America's ABC News: "Our country and our people are not afraid. The resolution is unfair, because as you know from the beginning we have proved to everybody that there have been no air strikes against civilians."

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