18 March 2011 Last updated at 00:56 GMT
UN backs action against Gaddafi
The UN Security Council has backed a no-fly zone over Libya and "all necessary measures" short of an invasion "to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas".
In New York, the 15-member body voted 10-0 in favour, with five abstentions.
Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi's forces have recently retaken several towns seized by rebels in an uprising.
Rebel forces reacted with joy in their Benghazi stronghold but a government spokesman condemned UN "aggression".
Loyalist forces are bearing down on Benghazi, home to a million people
Earlier reports suggested that if the resolution were passed, air attacks on Col Gaddafi's forces by the British and French air forces could begin within hours.
It is not thought that the US would be involved in the first strikes, but the British and French are likely to get logistical backup from Arab allies.
The UK, France and Lebanon proposed Security Council Resolution 1973, with US support.
Russia and China - which often oppose the use of force against a sovereign country as they believe it sets a dangerous precedent - abstained rather than using their power of veto as permanent members.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, introducing the resolution, said: "In Libya, for a number of weeks the people's will has been shot down... by Colonel Gaddafi who is attacking his own people.
"We cannot let these warmongers do this, we cannot abandon civilians."
He added: "We should not arrive too late."
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said: "This resolution should send a strong message to Colonel Gaddafi and his regime that the violence must stop, the killing must stop and the people of Libya must be protected and have the opportunity to express themselves freely."
British ambassador to the UN, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, said: "The international community has come together in deploring the actions of the Gaddafi regime and demanding that the regime end this violence against the Libyan people
." He said the UK was "ready to shoulder our responsibility".
But GERMANY, which abstained, will not be contributing to the military effort. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his government sees "considerable dangers and risks" in military action against Col Gaddafi.
There was a joyful response to the vote among rebels in Benghazi. Locals cheered, fired guns in the air and let off fireworks to celebrate the imminent no-fly zone.
But Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister
Khaled Kaaim said the vote amounted to "a call for Libyans to kill each other", according to Agence France-Presse news agency.
"This resolution shows an aggressive attitude on the part of the international community, which threatens the unity of Libya and its stability,"
he is reported to have said.
Earlier on Thursday, addressing the people of Benghazi, Col Gaddafi said his troops were coming "tonight" and there would be "no mercy".
He told rebels to go home, adding that "whoever lays down his weapons" would be pardoned.
Rebel leaders replied by saying their forces would stand firm and not be deterred by Col Gaddafi's threats.
Shortly before the UN vote on Thursday, anti-aircraft fire and explosions were heard in Benghazi.
The Libyan military earlier warned that any foreign operations against Libya would expose all maritime and air navigation in the Mediterranean Sea to danger, state TV reported.
"All civilian and military activities will be the target of a Libyan counter-attack. The Mediterranean Sea will be in serious danger not only in the short term but also in the long term," a screen caption said.
In other developments:
Forces loyal to Col Gaddafi reportedly launched their first air attacks on Benghazi, targeting the airport at Benina
Col Gaddafi's forces attacked the rebel-held town of Ajdabiya, a key objective before launching a ground assault on Benghazi
, but rebels deployed tanks, artillery and a helicopter to repel the assault
Libyan state television reported that the city of Misrata was almost entirely under government control, but rebels and residents in the city denied this
Official Libyan news agency Jana reported that government forces would cease military operations from midnight on Sunday to give rebels the opportunity to hand over their weapons and "benefit from the decision on general amnesty".
Following the toppling of the long-time leaders of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Libyan protesters started to demand that Col Gaddafi step down after 42 years of autocratic rule.
They quickly seized much of eastern Libya.
Imposes "ban on all flights in Libyan airspace" except for aid planes
Authorises member states to "take all necessary measures" to "protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack"
Excludes occupation force
Toughens arms embargo
by calling on all member states to "inspect in their territory vessels and aircraft bound to or from Libya"
Widens asset freeze to include Libyan Investment Authority, Central Bank of Libya and Libyan National Oil Company among others
Jonathan Marcus BBC diplomatic correspondent
The passage of this resolution marks a significant diplomatic victory for France, Britain and the Arab League countries who have all strongly backed the idea of a no-fly zone.
The crucial thing is that this text goes well beyond just the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Experts have cautioned that Col Gaddafi's most potent weapons are his ground forces - tanks and heavy artillery. The UN resolution appears to give legal weight, if necessary, to attacks on these forces too.
Signals from Paris suggest that air operations could be imminent
. But that may be an attempt to keep Col Gaddafi guessing. In the first instance these would probably target Libyan government air defences
But they could be the start of a brief air campaign of targeted strikes
intended to halt Col Gaddafi's forces in their tracks.