Arabian unrest hits fever pitch

Marion Dakers
VIOLENT anti-government protests in several Middle Eastern countries accompanied a third day of air strikes in Libya yesterday, as the ten-country military coalition squabbled over the next move.

As Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli was damaged by the strikes yesterday, David Cameron told Parliament enforcing a no-fly zone had come “just in the nick of time” to prevent a massacre, and that the intervention was “necessary, legal and right”.

He added in a near seven-hour Commons debate that the UN-endorsed action has destroyed almost all of Libya’s air defences, paving the way for an effective no-fly zone.

MPs last night backed the military action by 557 votes to 13.

Confusion remained about whether Gaddafi himself could be directly targeted, with Downing Street last night claiming he could legitimately be targeted if he is a threat to civilians.

The government attempted to distance itself from the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, who repeated his stance that Gaddafi would “absolutely not” be a legitimate target under the UN resolution.

The US government aims to transfer control of the air assault on Libya within days, President Barack Obama said at a press conference yesterday. Obama hinted that other nations should take charge of the UN-backed campaign.

Russia and China, which both abstained from Thursday night’s UN Security Council vote authorising “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, both criticised the bombings yesterday.

But the head of the 22-nation Arab League, Amr Moussa, insisted that the group still respects the UN resolution following reports of dissent.

Elsewhere, at least 18 senior military staff and seven ambassadors from Yemen defected to the opposition movement yesterday, on a day when tanks patrolled the capital Sana’a to quell increasingly violent protests. The Syrian army was also deployed to the city of Deraa yesterday after a day of riots.

Israel’s air strikes in the Gaza Strip yesterday wounded at least 19 people in response to mortar fire at the weekend, for which Hamas claimed responsibility.

Global stock indices rose yesterday as fears of further catastrophe in Japan subsided, but oil prices were squeezed up once more by the Middle East unrest. Brent crude spot prices jumped one per cent to $115.36 a barrel, adding to a 22 per cent gain in the past three months.