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World Powers Heap Pressure On Libya's Qaddafi To Step Down

28.02.2011 15:26

International pressure is growing for Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi to step down from power as momentum for antigovernment protesters within the country also appears to be on the rise.

Foreign ministers from around the world who gathered for meetings of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today called on Qaddafi to step down in order to avoid more bloodshed in his volatile country.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, European Union governments approved a package of sanctions against Qaddafi and his closest advisers today, including an arms embargo and bans on travel to the bloc.

The 27 EU states also agreed to freeze the assets of Qaddafi, his family, and government, and to ban the sale of tear gas and antiriot equipment that could be used against demonstrators.

In a powerful speech to the UN rights body, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "now is the time" for all members of the council to "stand up for the rights we claim to cherish."

"Colonel Qaddafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts which violate international legal obligations and common decency," Clinton said.

"Through their actions they have lost the legitimacy to govern, and the people of Libya have made themselves clear: it is time for Qaddafi to go -- now, without further violence or delay."

Clinton also urged the UN General Assembly to accept the Human Rights Council's call for the revocation of Libya's membership on the UN's top rights body.

She said the Human Rights Council must show that it has the will to work against gross human rights abuses and apply a single standard based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place in this chamber," Clinton added.

There were similar remarks from other foreign ministers.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd led the call for Qaddafi's resignation at the start of the Geneva meeting: "To Colonel Qaddafi, we say this: The Libyan people are saying, 'go.' The people of the Arab world are saying, 'go.' The peoples of the entire world are saying, 'go.' And for the sake of humanity, go now!"

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said crimes would not go unpunished and that there would be a "day of reckoning" for rights abusers in Libya or elsewhere.

Germany's Guido Westerwelle proposed a 60-day international freeze on all financial payments to Libya in order to prevent money from going to Qaddafi.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the council that the violent crackdown on protesters by Qaddafi's regime was unacceptable.

"The use of military force against the civilian population -- as happened in Libya, where hundreds of civilians were killed -- is unacceptable," Lavrov said. "Russia condemns such violence and demands its immediate discontinuation and full respect for international humanitarian law."

Earlier today, Clinton was in a series of meetings with European officials in a bid to coordinate an international response to Libya's crisis. Her talks included bilateral meetings with Lavrov, Hague, and with EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The talks reportedly focused on proposals for a UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Qaddafi's fighter jets and helicopter gun ships from carrying out strafing and bombing runs against antigovernment demonstrators.

Qaddafi's violent crackdown on demonstrators also has been referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which will investigate evidence of crimes against humanity.

Britain on February 27 froze the assets of Qaddafi, his daughter, and his four sons -- including Saif al-Islam Qaddafi. Britain also removed diplomatic immunity from Qaddafi and members of his household, as head of state, and banned his entry into the United Kingdom.

Italy, meanwhile, has renounced a treaty that would have prevented its forces from participating in peacekeeping or military operations in Libya.

Obstacles To Action

Altogether, some 16 foreign ministers or other high-level officials are expected in Geneva this week for the Human Rights Council's regular session, scheduled to last until March 25.

The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said ahead of the gathering that the UN sanctions imposed against Libya provide a solid basis for international action to protect protesters, as well as Libyans and foreign workers who are trying to flee the country.

Pillay also accused a number of governments in the Middle East, including Libya, of an "illegal and excessively heavy-handed response" to pro-democracy demonstrations.

Some diplomats argue that a no-fly zone is unnecessary because most of the reported human rights violations in Libya during the past week have been carried out by pro-government ground troops.

In Paris, France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon said a no-fly zone would be difficult to implement over Libya.

"Nobody in Europe today is capable of carrying out this operation," Fillon said. "We would need to implicate NATO and I think that on that, there is a bit of thinking that would have to be done. Should NATO be implicated in a civil war in the southern Mediterranean? That's a question that should at least be thought about before it is launched."

Rebel Momentum

But residents of the coastal city of Misurata -- who gained control of the airport and all major military and port installations last week -- fear government troops could be flown into eastern Libya to try to retake territory that has slipped out of Qaddafi's control during the past week.

Reports from Misurata, about 220 kilometers east of Tripoli, say some progovernment security forces were dropped from a military helicopter onto a nearby beach during the weekend in an unsuccessful attempt to take back or knock out the local radio station.

Antigovernment forces in Misurata claimed today that they shot down one Libyan air force plane that was flying over the city.

Meanwhile, reports from the city of Al-Zawiya to the west of Triopoli said demonstrators who have been in control of the city since the weekend were bracing for more clashes against pro-government troops.

based on 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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