CAIRO (Reuters) - The Arab League called on Muammar Gaddafi's government to halt attacks against Libyans on Wednesday and said it would consider imposing a "no-fly" zone over the country which has been suspended from the organisation.
An Arab League ministers' meeting in Cairo rejected any direct outside military intervention in Libya, where Gaddafi is trying to put down a revolt threatening his four decades in power. They reiterated their condemnation of his use of force.
"We have to save the Libyan people and that is why we are trying to call on Libya and the Libyan authorities to cease those attacks against the Libyan population," Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters during a closing news conference.
"The Arab League will not stand with its hands tied while the blood of the brotherly Libyan people is spilt," Moussa said.
Steps could include a "no fly" zone, enforced in cooperation with the African Union, he said, reading from the text of a resolution issued at the end of the meeting.
Western states appear hesitant about the idea of staging any form of military intervention in Libya. The United States is sending warships towards the country, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that imposing a "no-fly" zone would mean first attacking Libya and destroying its air defences.
The Cairo-based Arab League has suspended Libya's participation in condemnation of the crackdown by Gaddafi forces against protests that have grown into a rebellion against his rule and restricted his government to the west of the country.
REMEMBERING THE DEAD
The Arab resolution called on the Libyan government to respond to the "legitimate demands of the Libyan people" and to stop bloodshed. The Libyan authorities must lift restrictions on media and mobile networks and allow the delivery of aid.
The Arab League demanded "the preservation of the unity of Libyan lands and civil peace" -- similar to the language it used in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Their resolution confirmed Libya's suspension from the organisation until it responded to demands such as allowing freedom of expression.
"The situation in Libya is sorrowful and it is not correct that we accept it or live with it," said Moussa, speaking at the opening session.
Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister, intends to run for the Egyptian presidency after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11. The Egyptian revolt, like other protests across the region, was touched off by an uprising that forced Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power in January.
"The Arab people will stand against tyranny because it is painful, rejected and insulting," Moussa said. "It is the first meeting of a new era, in the era of revolution," he added.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, in opening remarks, said the Libyan leadership must make brave decisions to stop violence and respect the "legitimate rights" of the people.
Zebari called on the ministers to stand in silence in memory of Arabs killed in a wave of pro-reform protests that have swept the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia from power and are challenging the rule of others in Bahrain and Yemen, as well as Libya.
"We hope the Libyan people can overcome these difficult conditions, and that the Libyan leaders take brave stands to stop bloodshed and respect the legitimate desires and rights of its people to live in a free, democratic nation," Zebari said.
Libya's Arab League representative is one of the Libyan diplomats around the world who have deserted Gaddafi's administration. The Libyan delegation has renounced links to Gaddafi, saying it now represented the will of the people and condemned "the heinous crimes against unarmed citizens".
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Jon Hemming)