Obama condemns violence in Libya, asks for 'full range of options'

Foreigners were continuing to flee Libya the day after a defiant Moammar Gaddafi vowed to fight to stay in power. Unrest in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East has hit stock markets and sent oil prices soaring around the world. (Feb. 23)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 5:51 PM

President Obama strongly condemned the Libyan government's violence against protesters Wednesday, calling the bloodshed in the North African nation "outrageous" and "unacceptable" and saying he has asked his administration to "prepare a full range of options" to respond to the crisis.

In a brief appearance at the White House with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by his side, Obama delivered his strongest denunciation to date on the brutal crackdown unleashed by longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi against an opposition movement seeking his ouster. But Obama never mentioned Gaddafi by name, and he did not specify any actions that the United States is prepared to take beyond condemnations.

"We strongly condemn the use of violence in Libya," Obama said. "The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. . . . This violence must stop."

Obama added: "I've also asked my administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners, or those that we'll carry out through multilateral institutions."

Obama said Libyans' rights to assemble, speak freely and "determine their own destiny" are human rights that are "not negotiable." And he said the Libyan government must be held accountable for the violence it has unleashed.

"This is not simply a concern of the United States," he said. "The entire world is watching."

He said Clinton would travel to Geneva on Monday to attend a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting on Libya and coordinate with other countries.

Popular upheavals that have spread across the Middle East and North Africa, deposing long-entrenched autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, are "being driven by the people of the region," Obama said. "This change doesn't represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life."

Obama spoke after hundreds of U.S. citizens living in Libya boarded a ferry for an evacuation trip to the island of Malta. The ferry was chartered by the U.S. government and set to depart from a Tripoli port.

As of Tuesday, the State Department had been unable to get Libya's permission to fly American citizens out of the country, officials said, prompting the U.S. government to temper its response to the Libyan crackdown.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Libyan officials had promised over the weekend to support U.S. efforts to evacuate Americans but that the necessary permits for charter flights had not been granted.

"What we can't figure out is whether there's just chaos at the airport, which is entirely possible, or whether the Libyans are not cooperating," Crowley said in an interview.

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