- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya declared an immediate cease-fire Friday, trying to fend off international military intervention after the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to prevent the regime from striking its own people. A rebel spokesman said Moammar Gadhafi’s forces were still shelling two cities.

The cease-fire announcement by the Libyan foreign minister followed a fierce government attack on Misrata, the last rebel-held city in the western half of the country. A doctor said at least six people died.

Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels, said attacks continued well past the announcement.

“He’s bombing Misrata and Adjadbiya from 7 a.m. this morning until now. How can you trust him?” Gheriani said.

The U.N. Security Council resolution, which was passed late Thursday after weeks of deliberation, set the stage for airstrikes, a no-fly zone and other military measures short of a ground invasion. Britain announced that it would send fighter jets, Italy offered the use of its bases, and France was making plans to deploy planes. The U.S. had yet to announce its role. NATO also held an emergency meeting.

With the international community mobilizing, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said the government would cease fire in line with the resolution, although he criticized the authorization of international military action, calling it a violation of Libya’s sovereignty.

“The government is opening channels for true, serious dialogue with all parties,” he said during a news conference in Tripoli, the capital. He took no questions.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the first goal of international action is to end the violence in Libya.

“We have to see a very clear set of decisions” by Gadhafi’s forces, she said. Clinton said government forces must pull “a significant distance away from the east” — where the rebels now hold sway.

The rebels, once confident, found themselves in danger of being crushed by an overpowering pro-Gadhafi force using rockets, artillery, tanks, warplanes. That force has advanced eastward along the Mediterranean coast in recent days.

A large crowd in the Benghazi, the city where the uprising started on Feb. 15, watched the U.N. vote on an outdoor TV projection and burst into cheers, with green and red fireworks exploding overhead. In Tobruk, another eastern city, happy Libyans fired weapons in the air to celebrate.

“We think Gadhafi’s forces will not advance against us. Our morale is very high now. I think we have the upper hand,” said Col. Salah Osman, a former army officer who defected to the rebel side. He was at a checkpoint near the eastern town of Sultan.

Western powers faced pressure to act quickly as Gadhafi’s forces gained momentum. The U.S. has positioned a host of forces and ships, including submarines, destroyers, and amphibious assault and landing ships with some 400 Marines aboard. It also could provide a range of surveillance.

In an interview with Portuguese television broadcast just before the U.N. vote, Gadhafi pledged to respond harshly to U.N.-sponsored attacks. “If the world is crazy,” he said, “we will be crazy, too.”

The Libyan government closed its airspace Friday, according to Europe’s air traffic control agency, Eurocontrol.

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