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International Community Responds To Libya Crisis, Bloodshed


Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi addresses a crowd gathered in Tripoli's Green Square in this still image taken from video broadcast on Libyan state television on February 25.
International efforts to halt violence in Libya gathered pace as the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO scrambled to craft emergency responses to the mounting bloodshed in that country.

The efforts came as Libyan state television broadcast new images of leader Muammar Qaddafi appearing in person atop a rampart at Green Square in the capital, Tripoli, to deliver a defiant address in front of what appeared to be thousands of supporters.

In his brief attempt to rally those loyal to his regime, Qaddafi vowed to arm the public against protesters and boasted that the country could "defeat any aggression." He has previously pledged to "fight to the last drop of blood" and to "exterminate" protesters.

Soon afterward, Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, told CNN Turk in Tripoli: "We have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Plan A is to live and die in Libya. Plan B is to live and die in Libya. Plan C is to live and die in Libya."

The rebels control large swaths of territory, including the second-largest city of Benghazi. Qaddafi is believed to be in control of the capital as well as several areas in Libya's southern and sparsely populated central regions.

A Libyan antigovernment protester in Tobruk holds the country's former national flag.

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented meeting in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to dispatch a mission to probe rights violations in Libya, and recommended that the country be suspended from the body.

In Brussels, European Union member states agreed in principle to slap an arms embargo as well as asset freezes and travel bans on members of the Libyan regime. The EU embargo is to cover both military hardware and goods that could be used against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Darren Ennis, an Ashton spokesman, told RFE/RL's correspondent in Brussels that the sanctions have not yet been formalized. He said that with thousands of EU citizens still in Libya, a deliberate process was needed to avoid "a knee-jerk reaction from Qaddafi."

The European sanctions were expected to be officially enacted early next week.

In Washington, U.S. officials announced they would be suspending embassy operations in Libya and preparing unilateral sanctions against Qaddafi's government. A White House spokesman also said the U.S. supported suspending Libya from the United Nations.

Fear Of Escalation

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had said ahead of that bloc's gathering in Hungary that it was time for the bloc to consider restrictive measures against Libya, where President Muammar Qaddafi has mounted a brutal crackdown on protests seeking to topple his four-decade rule.

Fresh violence erupted when alleged foreign mercenaries and troops loyal to Qaddafi shot at protesters in the capital, Tripoli. Al-Jazeera television reported that two people were killed and several others were wounded.

The EU's Catherine Ashton: time for 'restrictive measures'
"For the European Union, it is time to consider what we call restrictive measures, to think about what we can do to ensure that we are putting as much pressure as possible to try and stop the violence in Libya and see the country move forward," Ashton said.

The defense ministers were also weighing options to evacuate the more than 5,000 EU citizens still in Libya and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the evacuation posed "a massive challenge."

NATO's North Atlantic Council later reiterated that it would not intervene in the Libyan crisis but would continue to monitor events there closely "in coordination with other international organizations, and "continue to consult in order to be prepared for any eventuality."

During a visit to Turkey, French President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first major world leader to openly urge Qaddafi to step down. Speaking at a joint press conference in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, Sarkozy said Qaddafi "must go" and called for an investigation and sanctions against the Libyan regime and those who continue to do business with it.

International Appeals

Vangelis Vrakas, a Greek citizen just evacuated from Libya, said independent access to Tripoli's airport was impossible. "There was absolutely no way to reach the airport unless there was an [evacuation] mission from a country. You were attacked," he told Reuters at Athens' airport. "They carried batons, sticks, [and] broomsticks. I mean the policemen, or they could be mercenaries because many were black."

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says evacuating EU personnel poses a 'massive challenge.'
NATO's main decision-making body held its emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss the situation in Libya and requests for the military alliance to help evacuate foreigners stranded by the fighting. Fogh Rasmussen had said NATO did not plan any military intervention in the North African nation.

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council gathered to decide whether to expel the North African country -- the first time that the United Nations' top human rights body has held a special session to scrutinize one of its members.

Addressing the meeting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay denounced the mass killing of antigovernment demonstrators and said thousands may already had been slain or injured.

Pillay described the pro-Qaddafi crackdown as "escalating alarmingly." She said Libyan forces used tanks and helicopters to target protesters, many of whom she said were killed by shots to the head or chest.

The UN Security Council meanwhile convened a meeting in New York to discuss a proposal drafted by France and Britain calling for an arms embargo, financial sanctions, and the prosecution of Libyan leaders for crimes against humanity. But a vote on the draft resolution was not expected until next week.

The United States has also urged strong action against Qaddafi's regime. President Barack Obama called the leaders of Britain, France, and Italy by telephone to discuss the international response to events in Libya.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Geneva to support the proposal to remove Libya from the UN Human Rights Council. On February 24, Washington said it was considering enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and did not rule out military action in the country.

Libyan Officials Abandon Qaddafi

Libyan ambassadors, officials, and soldiers continued to defect in protest at the bloodshed.

Libya's entire Arab League mission resigned en masse over the brutality of Qaddafi's response to the unrest. All 11 members said they were quitting to join the opposition. The head of the delegation, Abdel-Moneim al-Houni, had already resigned.

Adel Shaltut, a diplomat at the Libyan mission to the United Nations in Geneva, also renounced his mission's links to Qaddafi's government. "I wish to emphasize and underscore that we in the Libyan mission have categorically decided to serve as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will," Shaltut said, according to Reuters. "We only represent the Libyan people. We will serve as their representative in this august body and in other international fora."

The country's ambassador to Jordan, Muhammad al-Barghathi, said on February 24 that he was joining the side of protesters. "Our great people, due to these developments, I have decided to leave my job as an ambassador in order to remain in my natural position with you and among you," Barghathi said.

Tripoli's ambassadors to Paris and UNESCO have also resigned, as well as Libyan Prosecutor-General Abdul-Rahman al-Abbar.

Libya's government, clinging to power, has announced wage increases, food subsidies, and new allowances for all families.

But the cash handouts were unlikely to placate those fueling the revolt.

Thousands of Libyans rallied in Tripoli and cities in the country's east after Friday prayers to call for Qaddafi's ouster.

An antigovernment protester in Benghazi
Qaddafi's appearance on Green Square late on February 25 came amid reports that security forces were firing on protesters who took to the streets of the capital, killing some.

Thousands of foreigners have fled the country, but many remain stranded by the fighting.

written in Prague based on RFE/RL, agency, and media reports; with contributions from Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels