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U.S. ratchets up pressure on Gaddafi

The White House says the U.S. is moving forward with plans to impose unilateral sanctions on Libya in response to violence there. White House spokesman Jay Carney says the U.S. is finalizing that process Friday. (Feb. 25)

Earlier in the day, his counterpart in Geneva also broke ranks with Gaddafi, calling for a minute of silence "in honor of the revolution of 17 February," the day the demonstrations began, as other members of the Human Rights Council stood at attention.

"Colonel Gaddafi has lost the confidence of his people," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "His legitimacy has been reduced to zero in the eyes of his people."

But Carney said the sanctions were not intended to help push Gaddafi from power, reiterating that the Libyan people must be the ones to decide whether he should go. That has remained the U.S. public posture on the rolling "people power" revolutions that began last month in the Arab world, driving long-term leaders and U.S. allies from power in Tunisia and Egypt and sending thousands into the streets in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.

Nowhere, however, have the demonstrations been met with the vicious response unleashed by Gaddafi in Libya, as opposition forces have taken over the eastern part of the country and moved toward Tripoli.

While other governments began evacuating their diplomats and citizens on ships and charter flights last week, U.S. efforts were repeatedly delayed. A ferry chartered to carry U.S. citizens and diplomats to Malta arrived on Wednesday but waited for what officials said were 18-foot waves in the Mediterranean to subside before departing Friday morning with hundreds aboard.

Carney took to the White House podium just after a final group of U.S. diplomats and civilians left for Istanbul on a charter flight from Matiga military airfield outside Tripoli on Friday afternoon.

Carney rebutted questions implying that the United States has been slow to respond to the Libya crisis, saying that "there has never been a time when this much has been done this quickly."

But Obama's focus, he said, has been on "our obligation to the security of American citizens and also getting the policy right. And I can assure you that has been the guide - those have been the guiding principles as we've proceeded over the course of the last week."

Even before the announced sanctions, Carney said that U.S. financial institutions had been told to scrutinize "private banking accounts held by or on behalf of senior foreign political figures, and to monitor transactions that could potentially represent misappropriated or diverted state assets, proceeds of bribery or other illegal payments, or other public corruption proceeds."

According to State Department cables leaked by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, U.S. banks manage as much as a half-billion dollars in Libyan assets. The country's main investment fund for oil profits, held largely overseas, is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.

Long-standing U.S. sanctions against Libya had been eased in recent years as Gaddafi agreed to end his weapons of mass destruction programs and began to cooperate in international counterterrorism efforts.

At the State Department, officials told reporters that the administration had "suspended" operations at the U.S. Embassy on Friday but had not severed diplomatic relations with Libya.

"Our embassy is not closed," said Janet Sanderson, deputy assistant secretary for Near East affairs. "We still continue to reach out to Libyans where appropriate, directly and through third parties." While Sanderson did not rule out the possibility that "pockets" of Americans might still be in Libya, she said many private U.S. citizens had left on company charters or had received rides on ships and aircraft charted by other governments.

Of the 338 passengers aboard the ferry that departed Friday morning, 183 were U.S. citizens, including 39 embassy officials, said Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management. There were 19 U.S. officials aboard the U.S. charter aircraft, about a dozen private U.S. citzens and nine foreign nationals.

Lynch reported from the United Nations. Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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