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Italy willing to take part in Libyan raids

Embassy in Tripoli closed ahead of possible military action

18 March, 18:16
Italy willing to take part in Libyan raids (ANSA) - Rome, March 18 - Italy is willing to launch raids to support a United Nations-sanctioned mission to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to stop strongman Maummar Gaddafi from bombing remaining rebel strongholds, the Italian government said Friday.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told a Senate hearing that the government will ask parliament to authorize Italy's involvement in a ''coalition of the willing'' for military action.

He said that Italy was poised to make seven air bases available, while stressing that there would be ''no limit'' on Italian interventions to enforce Thursday's UN resolution authorising a no-fly zone.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also said Italy was ready to participate ''actively'' in the mission and announced that the country's embassy was to be closed in view of a possible operation.

''The whole international community is absolutely in harmony over the principle that Gaddafi must go,'' Frattini said.

Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the country's biggest opposition group was ready to ''support an active role'' within the remit of the UN resolution.

The Italian government's unconditional backing for a no-fly zone comes after it initially pursued a prudent line over the uprising in Libya. Italy has major business relations with its former colony and Premier Silvio Berlusconi had close ties with Gaddafi before the crisis.

Last week Frattini said a 2008 friendship treaty with the North African country ruling out military action from Italy had been effectively suspended because of the uprising. Gaddafi on Friday promised ''hell'' for any country that moved against him. But his government announced it had ceased its offensive against rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi in an apparent bid to halt an international military operation. The rebels who are seeking to end Gaddafi's 40-year rule said the ceasefire announcement was a ''bluff'' and Frattini said he did not expect it to last.

The foreign minister also said NATO should help put up a shield to protect Italy from possible reprisals launched from nearby Libya.

Former Italian air force chief of staff Leonardo Tricarico has said Italy might provide Tornado fighter-bombers to help knock out Libyan air defence and missile positions, as they did in Kosovo.

F-16 fighters and Eurofighters might be offered for patrol missions from Italian bases as well as AV8 planes off the Cavour aircraft carrier, he said.