PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy today said that "as of now" his country's air force is ready to attack the tanks and planes of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to defend the people of Benghazi.
Mr Sarkozy was speaking at the end of an emergency summit in Paris at which world powers, including Britain, joined the Arab League to make the final preparations for military intervention in Libya authorised by the United Nations (UN).
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The French president said that, despite a ceasefire announcement yesterday, Gaddafi's forces had flouted the UN's demand for an immediate end to violence against his people.
Mr Sarkozy said: "Our airforce will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gaddafi against the population of Benghazi.
"As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town. As of now, other French aircraft are ready to intervene against tanks, armoured vehicles threatening unarmed civilians."
Prime Minister David Cameron said that action to defend the Libyan people against Gaddafi's forces "must take place urgently".
Asked if military action was about to begin, Mr Cameron said: "Gaddafi has made this happen."
He added: "What is absolutely clear is that Gaddafi has broken his word, he has broken confidence and continues to slaughter his own civilians.
"This has to stop, we have to make him stop and make him face the consequences. I think action must take place urgently."
Mr Cameron said: "Our thoughts must be with those who will risk their lives to save others."
He acknowledged there would be "dangers and difficulties" involved in the operation, but added: "There will be unforseeable consequences of taking action, but better taken action than risk the consequences of inaction."
The BBC reported that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested that the first action to enforce a no-fly zone could be taken by French, British and American jets as early as today.
At the United States Air Force base at Lakenheath, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, two warplanes, F-15 Strike Eagle ground attack jets, were seen to take off.
It was from Lakenheath that US planes took off in 1986 to bomb Libya.
Updates will be provided as the situation develops.