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Rebels celebrate UN vote

world Updated: Mar 19, 2011 00:14 IST
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Thousands of jubilant Libyans gathered in the central square of the coastal rebel stronghold Benghazi on Friday for prayers and celebrations after a United Nation vote approved a no-fly zone. This jubilation was later intensified by Muammar Gaddafi's government saying it was declaring a unilateral ceasefire in its offensive to crush Libya's revolt, as Western warplanes prepared to attack his forces.

The UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone shortly after Gaddafi had threatened to send his troops into Benghazi.

Men, women and children packed into the courthouse square, which has served as a focal point for weeks of protests against the Libyan leader and is draped with banners denouncing his rule.

The rows of men and women prostrated underneath a blue sky, their backs to the Mediterranean Sea, as the breeze whipped banners and flags overheard.

They listened to a sermon in which the preacher thanked the international community and called on Libya's rebels to hold fast against Gaddafi, his voice at times breaking with emotion.

"Oh God, protect us from him, from his rockets, from his planes," Imam Abdul Aziz al-Farawi told the crowds as they shouted "God is greater." As the faithful bowed down, a helicopter captured by the rebel forces flew along the coastline behind them, bringing a senior rebel commander to the city to address journalists and supporters.

After the prayers, celebratory gunfire broke out, and a festive atmosphere reigned with crowds chanting "Lift your head up high, you're Libyan!"

But in rebel-controlled Tobruk in the east, there was scorn for the ceasefire call. On Thursday, Gaddafi had vowed "no mercy and no pity". "See how things change from night to day," said Ashraf Afgair. "They are just trying to calm international opinion. It's a desperate attempt to cling to power."

Idris Khamis said: "They have reached the end of the line. That's why they are accepting the UN decision. Otherwise it's the same fate for Gaddafi as Hitler and Mussolini."