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What can be done to end the crisis in Libya?

By Bryony Jones for CNN
Protesters have taken control of several key cities across Libya, but government forces appear to be fighting back.
Protesters have taken control of several key cities across Libya, but government forces appear to be fighting back.
  • U.N. has imposed sanctions against Gadhafi, freezing assets and blocking travel
  • Some experts are calling for a no-fly zone, but further U.N. resolution would be needed
  • Libya's ambassador to U.S. says his people are being 'slaughtered like sheep', pleads for action

(CNN) -- More than two weeks after protests against Moammar Gadhafi's regime began, the Libyan leader is still clinging to power, insisting "we will fight until the last man and woman to defend Libya."

Continuing unrest and violence has left experts warning of a major humanitarian disaster, as thousands of people flee across the borders into neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

So what can the international community do to stop further bloodshed? And will anything they do convince Gadhafi to step down after more than 40 years in power?

What about a no-fly zone to keep Libyan military aircraft out of the skies?

Some witnesses have accused pro-Gadhafi forces of firing on civilians from the air, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that these reports could not be confirmed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the imposition of a no-fly zone was under consideration. But Mullen said doing so would be "an extraordinarily complex operation."

Ali Suleiman Aujali, the Libyan ambassador to the U.S. who broke with the Libyan government over the use of force against protesters, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that his people were being "slaughtered like sheep" and the international community needed to step in -- or else stop encouraging the uprising.

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"They have to dominate the skies, they have to stop the march of the tanks towards Misrata and towards Tripoli," he said. "They have to take measures to stop these massacres going on in my country. If you can't act now, then don't encourage us to die."

John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, told CNN, "Legally, there is no authority for the United States or any other country to do that under international law unless authorized by the Security Council.

"Politically it could be quite problematic ... for the United States or NATO to begin shooting down Libyan aircraft, even in the face of the things that Gadhafi is doing against his own nationals."

What role does the United Nations play?

The United Nations Security Council has already taken some action against the Gadhafi regime, but it has not authorized the use of armed force.

Its members met at the weekend and voted unanimously for sanctions, including an arms embargo, assets freeze, and a travel ban for Gadhafi, his family, and key associates.

However, they did not support calls for a no-fly-zone, and any decision on whether to impose one is likely to have to wait for a further U.N. resolution.

What can NATO do?

If the U.N. did vote in favor of a no-fly-zone, NATO would likely play some role in enforcing it, but NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insists no action could be taken without a U.N. mandate.

"A no-fly-zone is not a part of the U.N. Security Council resolution, and a far-reaching approach like that would require a U.N. Security Council mandate," he told CNN.

"It's a hypothetical question at this stage, but if the issue is raised, and if there is a request [for cooperation] then the NATO council will consider it, but that's not the case for the time being.

"We have started preparations for all eventualities, but I think it is a bit premature to outline any timeline."

Is Italy's decision to suspend its non-aggression pact significant?

Potentially. If any military action, such as enforcing a no-fly-zone, were to be taken, troops would likely have to use air bases in Italy. Italy is also home to the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet.

Under a friendship treaty, signed three years ago by Gadhafi and Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, Italy agreed to pay Libya compensation for its colonial rule of the country, and Libya pledged to help stem the tide of refugees heading for Italy from its shores.

But the pact also included a non-aggression clause, under which Italy promised not to allow its territories to be used to launch military operations against Libya. The treaty was suspended over the weekend.

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  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi
  • Tripoli
  • United Nations

Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, told CNN that Italy's suspension of the pact would not immediately enable military operations to be launched from that country.

"If you're really trying to think about military action, do you have some kind of authorization to do so? You would need a U.N. mandate and possibly a NATO declaration or both, and there isn't anything like that on the table at the moment," he said.

Aldo Amati, deputy press secretary for the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, insisted the treaty had not been suspended to pave the way for military action. "There's no connection," he told CNN. "There's no link between the two things."

What about sanctions against the Gadhafi regime?

Gadhafi is no stranger to sanctions: He was subject to them for many years following Libya's refusal to hand over suspects in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, in which 270 people were killed.

This time around though, the international community has taken further action, freezing the Libyan leader's assets and those of his family and the regime.

The U.S. alone has blocked access to at least $30 billion in Libyan government assets, the largest amount ever blocked under a sanctions program.

Travel bans too are likely to impact the Gadhafi family's jet-setting lifestyle.

What will the U.S. do?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insists that: "Nothing is off the table, so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens."

However, analysts say it seems unlikely that that the U.S. would launch attacks on Libya without a U.N. mandate.

Rosemary Hollis, Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at City University London, said: "The messy fact of Afghanistan and Iraq has been to deter any kind of gung-ho notion that you can sort our any very foreign country by force."

But some prominent figures have called for other forms of military action to be taken - and quickly.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is one of those urging the introduction of a no-fly-zone: "Libyan pilots aren't going to fly if there's a no-fly-zone." And Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) has gone one further, arguing that as well as offering aid to the rebels, the U.S. should be supplying them with weapons.

Thomas Donnelly, of the American Enterprise Institute, says the mere sight of U.S. fighter jets over Libya would send a powerful message to Gadhafi. "Even if we just buzzed the palace and didn't release any ordnance, the symbolic action or the psychological effect could be enough to bring the war to a quick conclusion," he said.

The U.S. military is already close by: At least one destroyer is in the Mediterranean, and the amphibious assault ship the USS Kearsarge is in the Red Sea, close to the Suez Canal. The Kearsarge is well equipped to deal with casualties: it houses a floating hospital -- including six operating theatres -- which can care for up to 600 patients.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and its strike group are also in the region, able to move closer, if needed.

However, Hollis said without a U.N. resolution, action remains unlikely. "The only way I think they would launch military action without a clear U.N. mandate is by covertly supporting the opposition on the ground," she said.

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