UN no-fly zone over Libya: what does it mean?

Security Council votes to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. We look at the implica

 

The United Nations Security Council has voted in favour of a resolution to impose a no-fly zone on Libya. Here is a guide to exactly what this means.

What has been agreed?

The resolution (full text here) authorises member states to "take all necessary measures" to "protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack", in particular Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the east of the country, which is mentioned by name.

It also calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the violence, measures to make it more difficult for foreign mercenaries to get into Libya and a tightening of sanctions.

What does this mean in practice?

The resolution would permit air strikes on Libyan ground troops or allow attacks on Libyan warships if they were attacking civilians.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said a no-fly zone would "require certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defence systems".

While three air strikes were reported on the outskirts of Benghazi on Thursday, including at the airport, as well as another air raid further south, the dictator's troops have largely been relying on tanks and other ground forces during assaults on the rebels. UN planes could also attempt to bomb tanks and artillery, but unless they have very specific information, this risks causing rather than preventing civilian casualties.

When will action be taken?

According to the French prime minister, François Fillon, military action could begin "within hours". Throughout the past few weeks, France has been an advocate of more aggressive action in Libya.

Despite Fillon's assertion that "time is of the essence", a US military official has said that no immediate US action is expected.

No 10 sources have refused to put a timetable on British military engagement. Reportedly, the British Ministry of Defence is still finalising contingency plans. RAF ground attack aircraft are ready to be mobilised, and should be in action within days. According to analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Britain and France could operate a limited no-fly zone over Benghazi with little or no US support.

Ahmed el-Gallal, a Libyan opposition co-ordinator, said he hoped that the resolution would be enforced "immediately".

Which countries are involved?

The UN resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, France and Lebanon, with the US heavily involved in the drafting, and was passed by 10 votes to 0, with five countries abstaining, including Russia, China and Germany.

Calls for a no-fly zone have been led by Britain and France, and these two countries are likely to take the lead at least initially. As mentioned above, they could have sufficient military capability to mount a limited no-fly zone should the US choose not to get involved, though this may not have the desired impact on Muammar al-Gaddafi's crackdown.

Many western countries have significant military assets nearby, including aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, a large US airbase in Italy and a large British airbase in Cyprus.

Arab League and Gulf states have warships and fighter plans, but the extent of their involvement is as yet unclear. Reportedly two Arab nations have promised to take part in intervention, though it is not clear which countries. This could take the form of opening airspace, intercepting Libyan shipping, or contributing their own strike aircraft.

Canada has said it will send warplanes to help enforce the resolution. Nato would have to meet before committing any forces.

Why has it been passed now?

Gaddafi's forces have recently retaken several towns seized by rebels during the uprising, and are advancing on the stronghold of Benghazi. Without foreign intervention, the rebels could be crushed by the weekend.

While David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have been calling for a no-fly zone for days, the US getting behind the plan was key to it passing. After weeks of stalling, Washington backed the resolution, following calls for a no-fly zone by the Arab League at the weekend. This call for foreign intervention is unprecendented. It is a significant change in strategy for the US, which depends on any action being multilateral rather than US-led.

Another diplomatic shift that was key to the vote passing was the abstention of countries that do not favour military action. It was feared earlier that China and Russia would exercise their right of veto.

Will it stop Gaddafi?

The colonel's son Saif has been quoted this morning as saying that Libya is "not afraid" of UN-backed action. Saif called the vote a sign of "flagrant colonisation" and warned of dire consequences. "This is craziness, madness, arrogance," he told the Portuguese TV channel RTP. "If the world gets crazy with us, we will get crazy, too. We will respond."

Speaking on the Today programme, Libya's rebel deputy envoy to the UN, Ibrahim Dabashi, expressed doubt that the international intervention would change the situation on the ground.

As we have already seen, Gaddafi will not go down without a fight.

Is it likely to escalate into full-blown war?

It is entirely possible that Gaddafi will retaliate. In a statement broadcast on Libyan television, the defence ministry said: "Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya's counterattack." As mentioned above, several western countries have military assets nearby.

However, the UN resolution specifically rules out sending a foreign occupation force into any part of Libya. A ground intervention would require a second resolution to be passed.

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

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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