Libya declares ceasefire

Foreign minister says an immediate ceasefire will be imposed after UN backs no-fly zone.

The Libyan foreign minister, Mousa Kousa, has told reporters that Libya will impose "an immediate ceasefire and stoppage of all military operations" against rebel forces.

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, he said that the country will abide by yesterday's UN Security Council resolution calling for a no-fly zone and a ceasefire.

Kousa was critical of the "unreasonable" UN resolution, which allows the use of military power. "This goes clearly against the UN Charter, and it is a violation of the national sovereignty of Libya," he said.

He said Libya would "try to deal positively" with the resolution, and that a no-fly zone would "increase the suffering of Libyan people and will have negative impact on the general life of the Libyan people", as it will affect civilian as well as military flights.

This professed concern for civilians is a significant change in rhetoric from the Libyan regime. Just last night, Muammar al-Gaddafi warned that "no mercy" would be shown to the people of Benghazi.

It is far too early to tell how long a ceasefire will last, and whether this is a genuine laying down of arms or merely a strategic move to buy time. Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, told Sky News: "I think he has taken a step that no one foresaw. It is very difficult to read Gaddafi's mind but I think he sees this as a way of holding back the military attack."

The next important thing to watch is the terms of the ceasefire and how it will be monitored: it is highly unlikely that the regime will allow rebel groups in Benghazi to continue with impunity, ceasefire or not. Will the UN be allowed into Libya for monitoring purposes? It's worth noting that Kousa refused to answer any questions after his announcement.

If it comes to it, it will not be difficult for Gaddafi to ramp up the violence again.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.