Russia's Foreign Minister Rejects No-Fly Zone for Libya

March 1, 2011 - 10:00 AM

Geneva (AP) - Russia's top diplomat ruled out the idea of creating a no-fly zone over Libya on Tuesday as embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi unleashed bombing raids, special forces and army troops in a desperate bid to retain power.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the idea of imposing limits on Libyan air space as "superfluous" and said world powers must instead focus on fully using the sanctions that the U.N. Security Council approved over the weekend.

Leaders in the U.S., Europe and Australia have suggested the military tactic -- used successfully for years in northern Iraq -- to prevent Gadhafi from bombing his own people. Russia's consent is required as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

Russian newswires quoted a Kremlin source Tuesday saying Gadhafi must step down since by using force against civilians he has become a "political corpse." But Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin also cautioned against moving militarily against Gadhafi without U.N. authorization.

"If someone in Washington is seeking a blitzkrieg in Libya, it is a serious mistake because any use of military force outside the NATO responsibility zone will be considered a violation of international law," Rogozin told Russia's Interfax news agency in Brussels on Tuesday.

"A ban on the national air force or civil aviation to fly over their own territory is still a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country, and at any rate it requires a resolution of the U.N. Security Council," he said.

The council's sanctions so far include an arms embargo on Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter and leaders of revolutionary committees accused of much of the violence against opponents. It urged 192 member nations to freeze Libyan assets and authorized an investigation into Gadhafi's regime for possible crimes against humanity.

The Europe Union added its own sanctions Monday to force the dictator to stop attacks on civilians and step down after 42 years of iron-fisted rule. It issued travel bans and an asset freeze against senior Libyan officials, and ordered an arms embargo on the country. Germany went further, proposing a 60-day economic embargo to prevent Gadhafi from using oil and other revenues to repress his people.

The EU action is significant because Europe has much more leverage over Libya than the United States; 85 percent of Libyan oil goes to Europe, and Gadhafi and his family are thought to have significant assets in Britain, Switzerland and Italy. Switzerland and Britain already have frozen Libyan assets.

The Libyan uprising that began Feb. 15 has swept over nearly the entire eastern half of the country, putting entire cities there out of Gadhafi's grasp. But he and his backers hold the capital of Tripoli and have threatened to put down protests aggressively.

U.N. council members did not consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and no U.N.-sanctioned military action was planned. NATO says any intervention in Libya would have to be U.N.-authorized.

The U.N. and other groups hope diplomats can gain quickly unlock western parts of Libya that are now off-limits to humanitarian workers.

"We still do not have access," said International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson. "It is high time that the people's humanitarian needs are met."

Nelson said Tuesday her organization had "credible" reports of some patients being executed in hospitals in Libya.

The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open -- including patrolling the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country.

The action comes as foreign ministers and senior diplomats are meeting in Geneva for the U.N. Human Rights Council, which was focusing on Libya and other uprisings that have roiled the Arab world.

Bahrain's crown prince has ordered all security forces away from Shiite-led protesters rallying against the Sunni dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for more than two centuries, Bahrain's Social Development Minister Fatima Al Balooshi said Tuesday.

"They have been withdrawn. What we are trying is to have this dialogue with the people," Al Balooshi told reporters in Geneva. "The dialogue cannot happen in the streets."

Anti-government protesters blockaded Bahrain's parliament and massed outside the state broadcaster to escalate pressure on the nation's embattled monarchy after two weeks of nonstop marches and deadly clashes.

Al Balooshi described the monarchy as fearful that the demonstrations, involving hundreds of thousands, could spiral out of control. Shiites, who account for about 70 percent of the country's 525,000 people, have long complained of discrimination and other abuses by Bahrain's Sunni rulers.

"We are really afraid of splitting the country, that there's a very small line between having peace and having conflicts inside Bahrain," she said. "We don't want the monarchy to have civil war."

But she said the monarchy embraces change for the tiny Gulf kingdom's 1.2 million inhabitants.

"Bahrain will be a different country, it will not be the same as it has been," she said.