Arab League gets back behind Libya strikes
The Arab League got back behind international military strikes against Libya on Monday after comments by its leader had indicated divisions over the campaign against Moamer Kadhafi.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa declared his commitment to the UN-mandated action after a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Ban, who later had to be rescued from pro-Kadhafi activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square, said it was essential for the world "to speak with one voice" on the Libya crisis and Mussa gave new backing to the campaign.
"We are commmitted to UN Security Council Resolution 1973, we have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory," Mussa told a press conference with the UN chief.
The Arab League had announced its support for the no-fly zone and "we are committed to that decision," he added.
Mussa said that earlier comments had been "misinterpreted" and were motivated by concerns about civilians being caught up in the coalition strikes, as Arab governments did not want more deaths in Libya.
"We are working in coordination with the United Nations to protect the civilians in Libya," he added.
On Sunday, Mussa had raised concerns among governments in Europe and America when he said the air strikes went beyond Resolution 1973.
"What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians," Mussa told reporters then.
Cameron also telephoned Mussa after the comments. "The prime minister concluded that they were on the same page," his spokesman said of the talks which concentrated on the need to protect Libyan civilians.
Ban rallied the Arab League at the start of what he called a "most important and dramatic and historic visit" to Cairo, one month after the revolution in Egypt and with the military campaign against the strongman in neighbouring Libya gathering pace.
"It is imperative that the international community speak with one voice to fully implement" Resolution 1973, which the UN Security Council passed last Thursday to authorise military action against Kadhafi's forces.
"Thousands of lives are at stake. We could well see a further humanitarian emergency," he added.
Ban told reporters that "strong and decisive measures" had only been possible because of the Arab League support for the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.
Ban said "a strong partnership" between the UN and Arab League was crucial "if we are to enable democracy to take hold across the region, as its people are demanding."
"It can be hard to see beyond the escalating violence. But there is no holding back the movements for reform and democracy that have taken root."
Straight after the meeting Ban was thrown into an ugly confrontation with Kadhafi followers who tried to mob him as he started a walk across Cairo's Tahrir Square, scene of the protests that brought down Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak.
About 50 Kadhafi followers brandished portraits of Kadhafi in Ban's face and chanted "Down, down USA."
As the crowd, which had climbed over cars, threatened to surround the UN leader, security guards bundled him towards the back entrance of the Arab League headquarters.
Once over that fright, Ban suffered more abuse and fist-waving minutes later as he arrived at the prime minister's office.
More than 1,000 people were gathered for one of the near daily demonstrations there since Egypt's revolution, demanding jobs and homes.
And as he left that meeting, his UN convoy was confronted by another 200 people marching down the street demanding government action.
Ban had wanted to go to Tahrir Square "to get a first hand flavour of the scene of the Egyptian revolution," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.
In talks with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, Ban offered UN expertise to help the country with its political transformation and urged elections as quickly as possible.