France claims success in establishing a ‘no-fly zone' over Libya, vows to target military installations

The French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle left its home port of Toulon in southern France for the Mediterranean as France claimed the coalition had successfully established a ‘no-fly zone' over Libya.

France will continue to target Libya's military installations and air defences, a French military spokesman said.

Within minutes of President Nicolas Sarkozy's speech at the Paris summit on Saturday announcing the decision to cripple Colonel Qadhafi's firepower, French Mirage and Rafale fighter planes hit tanks and armoured vehicles close to Benghazi commanded by forces loyal to the Libyan strongman.

Libya claimed that its anti-aircraft batteries had downed a French plane. But the claim was immediately denied by French authorities, who said all their fighter aircraft returned home safely. Libya also claimed dozens of civilians had been killed and injured by the air raids, and voices are already being raised against the predominantly Western military action. Russia called on Sunday for a halt to “non-selective” bombing of targets.

The Arab League, which appeared to fully support the operation on Saturday, called for a halt to the bombing raids on Sunday. “What is happening in Libya is different from the objective of imposing a no-fly zone. That is what we want, not the bombardment of the civilian population,” Arab League General Secretary Amre Mussa said.

However, French sources said that despite these reservations, countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Qatar would send planes for the raids. The African Union too rejected “foreign military intervention” in Libya and called for an “African” solution to the conflict in that “brother country.” However, five African Presidents meeting in Nouakchott, Mauritania, failed to come out with any solution, except to call yet another meeting for March 25. The Africans did not attend Saturday's Paris summit that brought together 22 heads of state and government as well as representatives of international organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League.

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