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Berlusconi Opposes Libya Mission; Rome Cuts Involvement

Libyan protesters attend a rally against Moammar Gadhafi in Misrata, July 6, 2011

Libyan protesters attend a rally against Moammar Gadhafi in Misrata, July 6, 2011

Italy's prime minister has voiced serious doubts about the NATO intervention in Libya as his conservative government announced plans to cut back its participation in the mission.

Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday he has always been against the war but that his "hands were tied" once the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians. The Italian prime minister - the first Western leader engaged in the operation to publicly express doubts about its success - is under pressure to withdraw from the Libya campaign from his key ally, the Northern League.

Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said the aircraft carrier Garibaldi would be replaced by a smaller ship, freeing up nearly 1,000 military personnel. He said the drawdown would cut Italy's expenditures in the Libya operation from $204 million for the first three months of the mission to $83 million through September.

But La Russa said Rome remained committed to the operation and that alliance bombing runs, including those carried out by Italian aircraft, would continue from bases in southern Italy.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated a measure that would have cut off funding for the U.S. military operation against Libya beginning October 1, the start of fiscal year 2012.

The House did vote to bar money being spent on military equipment or training for the Libyan rebels. The bill also requires Senate approval and U.S. President Barack Obama's signature before becoming law.

In Geneva Thursday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged Moammar Gadhafi to listen "much more attentively" to the will of the people. The Libyan leader has dismissed opposition forces attempting to end his 42-year rule as "criminals and vermin."

Libyan rebels made substantial advances Wednesday, seizing two small towns south of Tripoli in a six-hour gunbattle with government troops. Rebel forces said they had gained control of al-Qawalish and Kikla, both within 100 kilometers of Mr. Gadhafi's stronghold of Tripoli. The next larger town to the north is Garyan, which controls a main road leading to the capital.

Opposition fighters also pushed further from their western stronghold of Misrata toward the town of Zlitan but came under heavy artillery fire. Medics say at least 14 rebels were killed and 30 wounded in fighting near the city on Wednesday.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.