NATO has announced that its mission in Libya has been extended for a further 90 days until at least late September, as it becomes clear that Colonel Gaddafi will not step down voluntarily.
The announcement appears to dash any hopes of an imminent negotiated end to the conflict, which has now gone on for fifteen weeks.
Rebels resisting Gaddafi’s forces in the besieged city of Misrata will welcome the announcement, and they can now expect the imminent arrival of NATO attack helicopters.
NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last night: “'NATO and partners have just decided to extend our mission for Libya for another 90 days.
“This decision sends a clear message to the Gaddafi regime: we are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya,” he said.
NATO has sent instructions to rebel fighters in Misrata notifying them of pre-arranged boundaries that they should not cross, so as not to get caught up in NATO’s attacks against Gaddafi’s forces.
In Paris, the French Defense Minister, Gerard Longuet, would not disclose precisely when the British Apaches and French Tiger helicopters, would be deployed, but did assure: “In any case, very rapidly.”
Meanwhile, the Gaddafi regime suffered a further blow on Wednesday when Shokri Ghanem, its oil minister and former prime minister, ended a lengthy period of speculation and announced he had turned on the dictator.
Ghanem appeared in a press conference alongside the Libyan ambassador to Rome, who has also defected. They condemned the “daily spilling of blood” and “unbearable” spiral of violence in the country.
However, he said it was too early to say whether he would work with the opposition National Transitional Council in Benghazi.
Earlier this week on Monday, the biggest protest in the Libyan capital in nearly three months was held. Approximately 1,000 people gathered for a funeral for two rebel activists killed in a clash with security forces.