EU Leaders Pile On Pressure As Pro-Qaddafi Forces Advance
Last updated (GMT/UTC): 11.03.2011 16:10
European Union leaders gathered for a crisis summit in Brussels today are increasing pressure on Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi's regime, with calls for him to step down and threats to impose possible further sanctions.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a joint letter, said it had become clear that Qaddafi's regime had lost legitimacy and that he and his elite circle should leave power.
Hungary's foreign minister, Janos Martonyi, told Hungarian public radio today that before any military step is taken against Qaddafi's regime, very clear political messages would be sent by European officials from today's summit.
Martonyi said "the essence of the political message" is that Qaddafi must quit and the conditions for a democratic transition must begin to be created in Libya. He said extra sanctions could include freezing the assets of Libya's state-controlled oil and natural gas producer as well as export firms from Libya with ties to the regime. Hungary currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.
The summit comes a day after European nations extended international sanctions to include Libya's government and its banks. It also follows recognition by France of the opposition's so-called "interim transitional National Council" as the "legitimate representative of the Libyan people."
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim criticized France's move, suggesting that the Libyan government would cut off all diplomatic ties with Paris if France carries out its intention to send an ambassador to the opposition-controlled eastern city of Benghazi.
The United States has also said it would hold talks with Libya's opposition leaders.
But U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper told a U.S. Senate hearing that Washington should be prepared for the likelihood that Qaddafi will remain in power for the duration of what is now being described as a civil war.
"We believe that Qaddafi is in this for the long haul,” Clapper said. “I don't think he has any intention, despite some of the press speculation to the contrary, of leaving [power]."
Range Of Options
France has said it would use today's EU summit to discuss a range of options that the international community -- mandated by the United Nations -- could use to curtail Qaddafi's ability to attack Libyan civilians.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told journalists that any military action by NATO "needs to be thought out." He said NATO and its partners "cannot become engaged in a military conflict which we later are not convinced about and which cannot be pushed through." He also said European officials should not threaten Qaddafi with actions that are not implemented.
Pro-Government Troops On The Offensive
Reports from Tripoli today say Libyan security forces used tear gas and fired into the air after Friday Prayers to disperse worshippers near a mosque who were planning to protest against Qaddafi's regime.
But it was impossible to verify reports about what was happening in the Tajoura district of Tripoli because foreign journalists have been prevented from reporting from the area and anti-Qaddafi activists were not answering phone calls.
Government troops appeared early today to be taking the military initiative with advances against opposition fighters to the east of the capital.
Libyan opposition fighters pulled back their last main checkpoint near the eastern oil port city of Ras Lanuf early in the day as their forces continued to fight an offensive by government troops loyal to Qaddafi's regime.
That followed a vow by Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam on March 10 that the regime would use force to crush the three-week-old uprising and retake territory seized by opposition fighters in the eastern parts of the country.
Qaddafi loyalists also had advanced into residential neighborhoods of Ras Lanuf overnight. But later, after opposition fighters moved tanks and armored personnel carriers from Brega toward Ras Lanuf, opposition forces claimed they had pushed pro-Qaddafi troops out of the oil terminal city.
written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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