Jason DeCrow, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS — Moving swiftly in response to a request by Arab nations, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday paved the way for international air strikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces with its vote authorizing military action to protect civilians and a no-fly zone over Libya.
The council acted five days after the Arab League urged the U.N.'s most powerful body to try to halt Gadhafi's advancing military and reverse the realities on the ground, where rebels and their civilian supporters are in danger of being crushed by pro-government forces using rockets, artillery, tanks and warplanes.
The vote was 10-0 with five countries abstaining including Russia and China, which have veto power in the council, along with India, Germany and Brazil. Russia and China expressed concern about the United Nations and other outside powers using force against Gadhafi, and Germany expressed fear that military action would lead to more casualties.
The United States — which in a dramatic reversal joined the resolution's initial supporters Britain, France and Lebanon — not only helped push for a quick vote but pressed for action beyond creation of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from air, land and sea attacks by Gadhafi's fighters.
"This council moved with remarkable speed in response to the great urgency of the situation on the ground," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said. "This resolution should send a strong message to Colonel Gadhafi and his regime that the violence must stop, the killing must stop, and the people of Libya must be protected and have the opportunity to express themselves freely."
The resolution bans all flights in Libya's airspace to help protect civilians. It also authorizes U.N. member states to take "all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."
U.S. officials said the resolution provides a strong legal base for enforcing the no-fly zone and for countries to carry out air and sea strikes against Gadhafi's forces.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Tunisia on Thursday that a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya would require action to protect the planes and pilots, "including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the three criteria for taking action — a demonstrated need, clear legal basis and broad regional support — all have been fulfilled.
"This places a responsibility on members of the United Nations, and that is a responsibility to which the United Kingdom will now respond," he said.
Libya's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, whose support for the opposition spurred many Libyan diplomats around the world to demand Gadhafi's ouster, called on the world to respond "immediately."
"The lives of the civilians are in danger right now and I expect the international community to move quickly," he said.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said with the "strong legal base," Britain and a number of other countries in NATO and a number of Arab League countries "will be looking to implement those measures." Diplomats said Arab countries likely to participate in possible strikes include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
In Britain, a lawmaker with knowledge of defense matters confirmed that British forces were on standby for air strikes and could be mobilized as soon as Thursday night. The lawmaker declined to be named because the Defense Ministry has not issued official confirmation.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told France-2 Television that France would support military action against Gadhafi within a matter of hours after the resolution was approved.
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