French fighter jets fired the first shots at Muammar al-Qaddafi's troops on Saturday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war in support of an uprising that had seemed on the verge of defeat.
In the hours before the no-fly zone over Libya went into effect, Qaddafi sent warplanes, tanks and troops into Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the rebellion that began Feb. 15. Then the government attacks appeared to go silent.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after an emergency summit in Paris that French jets were already targeting Qaddafi's forces. The 22 participants in Saturday's summit agreed to do everything necessary to make Qaddafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday demanding a cease-fire, Sarkozy said.
"Our consensus was strong, and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency," President Barack Obama said in Brasilia, Brazil, on the first day of a three-country Latin American tour.
The rebels, who have seen their advances into western Libya turn into a series of defeats, said they had hoped for more, sooner from the international community, after a day when crashing shells shook the buildings of Benghazi and Qaddafi's tanks rumbled through the university campus.
"People are disappointed, they haven't seen any action yet. The leadership understands some of the difficulties with procedures but when it comes to procedures versus human lives the choice is clear," said Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the opposition. "People on the streets are saying where are the international forces? Is the international community waiting for the same crimes to be perpetrated on Benghazi has have been done by Qaddafi in the other cities?"
A doctor said 27 bodies had reached hospitals by midday. As night fell, though, the streets were quiet.
Libyan state television showed Qaddafi supporters converging on the international airport and a military garrison in Tripoli, and the airport in Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, in an apparent attempt to deter bombing.
President Obama welcomed Brazil's rise as an economic power and said the United States would be an eager customer for its oil exports as he opened a Latin America tour against the backdrop of an escalating Western military showdown with Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Obama arrived in the highland capital of Brasilia early Saturday morning to start a three-country, five-day tour aimed at increasing U.S. economic ties with the region. After private meetings with Brazil's newly elected President Dilma Rousseff at the presidential palace, the Palacio do Planalto, Obama said the U.S. "enthusiastically" supports Brazil's economic growth.
"President Rousseff and I both believe this visit is an historic opportunity to put the United States and Brazil on a path toward even greater cooperation for decades to come," Obama said during remarks to reporters following his meetings with the president.
Brazil stands out for its strategic and economic importance to the United States. As the world's seventh-largest economy, it is a member of an exclusive club of influential developing nations along with Russia, India and China, collectively known in economic circles as the BRIC nations. Obama is looking to reset the U.S. relationship with Brazil, an emerging economic power that even without being hostile has annoyed Washington with its independent ways.
The Snooper Report
Join us as we Take Our Country Back
Sic vis pacem para bellum