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U.S. President Says Qaddafi Has Lost Legitimacy, Must Leave

President Barack Obama says Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and must step down.

President Barack Obama says Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and must step down.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made his strongest comments to date on the rebellion in Libya, insisting that Muammar Qaddafi "step down from power and leave" after four decades of rule.

Obama said the world is "outraged by the appalling violence against the Libyan people."

"We will continue to send a clear message: the violence must stop, Muammar Qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, and he must leave," Obama said. "Those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable. The aspirations of the Libyan people for freedom, democracy, and dignity must be met."

Obama also announced that U.S. military aircraft would begin airlifting out Egyptians who fled the chaos and were now refugees on the Libya-Tunisia border.

"We are also responding quickly to the urgent humanitarian needs that are developing. Tens of thousands of people from many different countries are fleeing Libya, and we commend the governments of Tunisia and Egypt for their response, even as they go through their own political transitions," he said.

U.S. Warships In Area

An exodus of nearly 200,000 people fleeing the chaos in Libya, many of them foreign guest workers, has created a humanitarian crisis on the borders. Thousands of foreign workers began to be evacuated from Libya's second-largest city on March 3 as more than $30 million in aid money began arriving from the United States, Europe, and the United Nations.

Officials with the International Organization for Migration said nine flights provided by Britain and the UN refugee agency flew nearly 1,700 people from Djerba, Tunisia, to Cairo. France was said to be providing six flights per day for the next several days, as well.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after a conference call with Mideast, African, European, UN, and migration officials that much more help has reached refugees over the last 24 hours than at any time previously in the crisis. He also announced plans to name a special envoy to oversee the relief effort.

In his comments during a press conference with visiting Mexican President Filipe Calderon, Obama said he had told the departments of defense and state to look at the full range of options, including a possible "no-fly" zone to prevent air attacks on the Libyan opposition.

Libyan opposition leaders have pleaded for foreign powers to launch airstrikes but the Pentagon has tried to play down the idea of using military force.

On March 2, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the establishment of a "no-fly zone" would amount to an act of war because it would involve taking out Libya's considerable air defenses.

Despite this, some 400 U.S. Marines have arrived at a U.S. naval base in Greece in a buildup of U.S. forces around Libya.

Egyptian officials said two U.S. warships passed through the Suez Canal on March 2 on their way to the Mediterranean Sea, closer to Libya. The officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the amphibious assault ships "USS Kearsarge" and "USS Ponce" entered the canal from the Red Sea, and that the "Kearsarge" carried 42 helicopters.

Britain and France have said that preparations should begin to establish a "no-fly zone" over the North African nation to protect rebel forces. At news conference in Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the move was necessary to counter Qaddafi's threats to bomb his own people.

"Obviously, the Qaddafi regime's threat to bomb the civil population and citizens is unacceptable and would be criminal, and so we have to prevent such an event, such a development. That is why France approved the planning by NATO of what is called a no-fly zone in Libya," he said.

Terror In Tripoli

Qaddafi, who has vowed to stay in power, warned on March 2 if the United States or NATO forces enter the conflict, "thousands and thousands of Libyans will die" and "another Vietnam will begin."

Obama's comments came as rebels strengthened their hold on the strategic oil installation at Brega after repelling an attempt by Qaddafi loyalists to retake it.

But in the capital of Tripoli, an atmosphere of terror has settled on the city as a wave of arrests, killings, and disappearances by government forces has swept through neighborhoods.

There are reports of bodies of people who vanished being dumped in the street, gunmen in SUVs descending on homes in the night to drag away suspected protesters, and militiamen searching hospitals for wounded to take away.

Opponents were organizing new protests even though military specialists say they doubt opposition forces have the offensive military capabilities needed to displace Qaddafi loyalists who remain in control of Tripoli.

They warn that the inability of either side to achieve a clear victory suggests Libya is sliding into what could be a long and protracted civil war.

Libya's uprising is the bloodiest yet against long-serving rulers in the Middle East and North Africa. UN officials warn that the violent crackdown by government troops already has caused a humanitarian crisis -- especially on the Tunisian border where tens of thousands of foreign workers are trying to flee to safety.

With the struggle intensifying, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa said that a peace plan proposed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez was being considered.

ICC Investigation

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on March 3 that officials there would launch a "crimes against humanity" investigation against Qaddafi, some of his sons, and Qaddafi's "inner circle" who have de facto authority in Libya.

Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also put pro-Qaddafi security and military commanders "on notice" that they also could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity if they do nothing to stop their troops from carrying out attacks on civilians in Libya.

"The office will investigate who is most responsible for the most serious incidents, for the most serious crimes committed in Libya. The office will present its evidence to the judges and the judges will decide whether or not to issue arrest warrants," he said.

Moreno-Ocampo specified a half dozen cases in which unarmed civilians in eastern Libya allegedly were killed by pro-Qaddafi forces on February 15, February 16, and February 20, and said "there will be no impunity in Libya" for those responsible for ordering troops to attack civilians.

The probe follows a UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions against Qaddafi's regime and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court -- granting The Hague-based court formal jurisdiction.

with agency reports