U.S. ratchets up pressure on Gaddafi
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 12:00 AM
Moments after a charter aircraft departed Libya with all remaining U.S. diplomats there Friday, the Obama administration shuttered the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and moved to freeze assets in this country belonging to leader Moammar Gaddafi, his family and his government.
In an executive order issued Friday night, President Obama accused Gaddafi and his government of taking "extreme measures against the people of Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries and wanton violence against unarmed civilians." The order blocking the transfer or withdrawal of any funds applies to all Libyan government entities, Gaddafi and all of his estimated eight children, specifically naming three sons and a daughter.
White House officials said Obama also canceled all military contacts with Libya and ordered a reallocation of U.S. intelligence assets to focus on civilian deaths there and to track Libyan troop deployments and tank movements.
The administration had cited the risk to American lives for what had appeared to be its restrained reaction to growing evidence of atrocities in Libya over the past week, even as evidence of government atrocities grew. But with virtually all Americans and other foreigners now gone, it moved quickly to ramp up the pressure on Gaddafi.
In a statement issued with the executive order, Obama said the Gaddafi government "must be held accountable" for its "continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people and outrageous threats." The U.S. actions, it said, targeted Gaddafi "while protecting the assets that belong to the Libyan people."
The administration's efforts were joined by those of the international community. On a day of frenetic diplomatic activity, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva condemned Gaddafi's bloody crackdown on demonstrators and ordered a war crimes investigation.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, European powers circulated a draft resolution, to be considered at an emergency Security Council meeting Saturday, that would impose international economic sanctions on Libya and specifically target Gaddafi, his sons and his close aides with a travel ban and asset freeze.
The draft also calls for the imposition of a comprehensive arms embargo and invites the International Criminal Court to carry out an investigation into "crimes against humanity" in Libya.
Thus far, Gaddafi has shown no inclination to bow to foreign pressure. He has vowed to remain in power and said he is ready to "die a martyr."
Senior U.N. diplomats said there were no proposals as yet to authorize international military action or impose a no-fly zone over Libya. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meeting Friday with European Union defense ministers in Bucharest, Romania, said a no-fly zone would require U.N. authorization.
In a chilling briefing to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cited reports that forces loyal to Gaddafi were shooting civilians as they left their homes and inside hospitals in Tripoli, and said that more than 1,000 people had been killed.
Libya's U.N. ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, broke down in tears after he urged intervention to stop the bloodshed. Shalgam said that Gaddafi, his former friend and mentor, had given the Libyan people a grim choice: "Either I rule you or I kill you." He received hugs from some diplomats.