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Some European countries are planning to help refugees fleeing the violence in Libya. France is sending medical help. Britain has chartered jets to transport Egyptian workers back home. But in Europe there is some alarm over proposals for military action, including a no-fly zone over Libya.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome on Europe's response.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: In a sign of what some commentators say is Europe's inability to speak with a single voice, European Union Libyan crisis talks won't take place until March 11th.

Ever since unrest broke out in the Arab world, many Europeans found themselves on the wrong side. As the weekly The Economist´┐Żpointed out, when Tunisians took to the streets, France offered President Ben Ali the help of its security forces. When millions of Egyptians marched in Cairo, Italy praised Hosni Mubarak as the wisest of men. And when the regime opened fire on protesting Libyans, the Czech Republic said catastrophe would follow the fall of Gadhafi.

But while many European governments have since made U-turns, they're still slow to act. Paddy Ashdown, former international envoy in Bosnia, said that, as in that country, military intervention should not be ruled out.

Mr. PADDY ASHDOWN (Former International Envoy, Bosnia): And, therefore, making contingencies for a no-fly zone is absolutely right, absolutely proper. That isn't to say that it should happen now. The thing that will determine this is not the military side but the politics.

POGGIOLI: But reactions on the continent were negative. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said a NATO military action could be extremely counterproductive. And his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, warned against meddling in Libya's affairs. Italian political analyst Sergio Romano says Europe is reluctant to take part in another military action in a Muslim country.

Mr. SERGIO ROMANO (Political Analyst, Italy): When you say no-fly zone, it looks like you're doing something very humanitarian. But it isn't neutral to be in a country where there is a civil war because sooner or later you find yourself fighting for something.

POGGIOLI: And as for sanctions, up to now, only Austria, Germany and Great Britain have agreed to freeze assets linked to the Gadhafi family. Nothing has been done yet in Italy, where Gadhafi is one of the major foreign investors on the Italian stock market.

But on one issue, there is a sense of urgency: the possible influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing instability in the region. Some 140,000 people have fled Libya to Tunisia in what EU Commission President Jose Manuel Baroso calls a humanitarian tragedy.

Just one week ago, northern European countries dismissed Italian appeals for common action. Today, several governments announced humanitarian operations to assist the growing number of refugees.

Jan Techau, Europe director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Europe risks again pursuing only short-term solutions.

Mr. JAN TECHAU (Europe Director, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Traditionally, not only the Europeans but basically the entire West has always had to make that tough decision between democratization and stabilization. But since short-term results are so much easier to measure than long-term results, my fear is that we will always politically, you know, be very prone to look at the short-term results.

POGGIOLI: Which could mean that North Africa could end up with neither democracy nor stability.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

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