France launched an air strike on a target in Libya on Saturday, kicking off an international campaign to prevent Muammar Qadhafi's forces from crushing a month-old uprising against his rule.
A French warplane “opened fire at 5.45 p.m. (1645 GMT) on an unspecified vehicle,” French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burckhard told journalists in Paris, adding the military was “assured of the threat” to civilians posed by the target.
In the protesters' camp, celebratory gunfire and honking of car horns broke out in Al-Marj, 100 km from the stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, to welcome the start of military operations against Colonel Qadhafi, correspondents said.
Vaiju Naravane reports:
World leaders meeting here on Saturday agreed on ways to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in order to prevent attacks against civilian protesters by Muammar Qadhafi's forces. The meeting took place as French reconnaissance planes carried out sorties over Libyan airspace.
President Sarkozy confirmed that French planes were already in action, preventing Colonel Gaddafi's forces from using air power or heavy artillery against Libyan towns. “We are intervening in Libya under the mandate of the United Nations. The meeting today agreed to use all means, especially military means, to ensure that the U.N. Security Council resolution is respected,” Mr Sarkozy said.
“Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Qadhafi 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,” Mr. Sarkozy announced immediately after the meeting.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters: “The time for action has come.” He said there was credible evidence that Colonel Qadhafi had repeatedly broken the ceasefire he had announced earlier.
French officials indicated that French Mirage and Rafale fighters were already overflying Libyan airspace. The British, the French, the Italians, the Spaniards and the Norweigians are among those fully on board, and the Qatari air force is also expected to participate in the strikes.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who attended the meeting, offered the use of Italian bases in Sicily and Sardinia, though Italian planes were unlikely to be involved in the action. The British are expected to deploy Typhoon and Tornado aircraft, while France is expected to make use of its bases on the Riviera.
Mr. Sarkozy also insisted on the international nature of the meeting, emphasising that the Arab League was fully represented. Five Arab nations — Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — were present at the meeting, as was Arab League General Secretary Amre Mussa. Saudi Arabia, which had initially proposed the use of its air force, did not attend.
Twenty-two heads of state and government as well as leaders of international organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union attended the meeting. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were also present.
The African Union was not represented. Nor were emerging economies such as India, Brazil, China or Russia, all of which abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote last Thursday that gave the green light to a no-fly zone.
Germany too abstained, but Chancellor Angela Merkel made it a point to attend the Paris meeting.