Tripoli: An international campaign to force Colonel Moammar el-Gaddafi out of office gathered pace on Monday as the European Union (EU) adopted an arms embargo and other sanctions, as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly told the Libyan leader to surrender power “now, without further violence or delay.”
With the opposition showed increasing signs of organization in the east, and rebel and loyalist forces locked in an increasingly tense stand-off, the prime ministers of France and Britain echoed Mrs. Clinton’s call for Colonel Gaddafi to go. Germany proposed a 60-day ban on financial transactions, and a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said that contacts were being established with the opposition.
Italy’s foreign minister on Sunday suspended a non-aggression treaty with Libya on the grounds that the Libyan state “no longer exists,” while Mrs. Clinton said the United States was reaching out to the rebels to “offer any kind of assistance.”
France said it was sending medical aid. Prime Minister François Fillon said planes loaded with doctors, nurses and supplies were heading to the rebel-controlled eastern city of Benghazi, calling the airlift “the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories.”
Monday was a day of increasing self-confidence among the rebels, who spoke of tapping revenue from the vast Libyan oil resources now under their control – estimated by some oil company officials to be about 80 percent of the country’s total.
There were also new reports of fighting. The rebels claimed to have shot down a military aircraft as they repulsed a government bid to take back Libya’s third city, Misurata, 125 miles east of Tripoli. There, as in Zawiyah, one of several breakaway cities near the capital, government forces seem to have encircled rebels but have been unable to dislodge them. There were unconfirmed reports of shelling in Misurata.
Across the region, the tumult that has been threatening one autocratic government after another since the turn of the year continued unabated. In Yemen, protests drove President Ali Abdullah Saleh to make a bid for a unity government, but the political opposition rapidly refused. An opposition leader, Mohamed al-Sabry, said in a statement that the president’s proposal was a “desperate attempt” to counter major protests planned for Tuesday.
In Bahrain, protesters blocked access to Parliament, according to news agencies. In Oman, whose first major protests were reported over the weekend, demonstrations turned violent in the port city of Sohar, and spread for the first time to the capital, Muscat.
The international diplomatic campaign focused on Libya was offset by mounting worries of a building humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of mainly poor contract workers stood in lines to leave Libya for its neighbors, Tunisia to the west and Egypt to the east.
The United Nations refugee agency called the situation a humanitarian emergency as workers hefting suitcases of possessions stood in long lines to leave Libya, many of them uncertain how they would finally get home.
Mr. Fillon told the RTL broadcaster that the French government was studying “all solutions to make it so that Colonel Gaddafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power.” British Prime Minister David Cameron declared: “It’s time for Colonel Gaddafi to go.”
In the face of such calls, the Libyan authorities blamed Islamic radicals and the West on Monday for a conspiracy to cause chaos and take over the country.
At a news conference for foreign journalists invited to Tripoli, a government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, denied reports that Colonel Gaddafi’s loyalists had turned their guns on hundreds of civilians. “No massacres, no bombardments, no reckless violence against civilians,” he said, comparing Libya’s situation to that of Iraq before the American-led invasion in 2003.
But Mr. Ibrahim insisted that Libya still sought some kind of gradual political opening as suggested by the colonel’s son, Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi.
“We are not like Egypt or Tunisia,” the spokesman said. “We are a very Bedouin tribal society. People know that and want gradual change.”
Reporters told him that, on Sunday, they had visited Zawiyah, 30 miles from Tripoli, and saw no evidence of Islamist forces. “They knew you were coming,” the spokesman said. “They were hiding those with an obvious Al-Qaida look.”
The visit came a day after defecting officers in the east of the vast, desert nation took steps to establish a unified command while their followers in the rebel-held city of Zawiyah, just outside the leader’s stronghold in the capital, displayed tanks, Kalashnikovs and antiaircraft guns.
Mr. Ibrahim said reports of massacres by government troops were analogous to those suggesting that Saddam Hussein had developed unconventional weapons in Iraq, suggesting that they were designed as a reason for military attack.
“The Islamists want chaos; the West also wants chaos,” he said, maintaining the West wanted access to Libya’s oil and the Islamists wanted to establish a bridgehead for international terrorism. “The Iraq example is not a legend – we all lived through it. Doesn’t this remind you of the whole Iraq scenario?” he said.
Later on Monday, the authorities, keen to show calm prevailing, took reporters on a tour that included Roman ruins at Sabratha, 40 miles west of Tripoli, where a pro-Gaddafi crowd chanted slogans. Afterward, a member of the crowd was asked by a reporter whether he had been paid to demonstrate in favor of the government. “Yes,” he replied, suggesting that he harbored sentiments other than those he had chanted in the slogans supportive of Colonel Gaddafi. “And, believe me, we will get our freedom.”
The official Libyan arguments have become familiar as Colonel Gaddafi’s opponents seem to gain ground. Referring to Libya, the head of the human rights body, Navi Pillay, demanded in a speech on Monday that: “The rights of the protesters must be upheld and asylum seekers, migrants and other foreign nationals fleeing the violence must be protected,” news agencies reported.
In Geneva, Mrs. Clinton met with her European counterparts and other senior diplomats to intensify international pressure to force out Colonel Gaddafi.
In remarks to the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization the United States once shunned because of its inclusion of countries like Libya, she said that the American administration would consider additional measures, but she did not announce any.
“We all need to work together on further steps to hold the Gaddafi government accountable, provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the Libyan people as they pursue a transition to democracy,” Mrs. Clinton said.
She cited reports of “indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests and torture,” as well as Libyan soldiers being executed “for refusing to turn their guns on their fellow citizens.”
“We will continue to explore all possible options for actions,” she added. “As we have said, nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyans.”
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said that in their meeting in a Geneva hotel, he and Mrs. Clinton did not discuss military measures, such as imposing a no-flight zone in Libyan airspace.
Later, Mrs. Clinton announced that the United States Agency for International Development was dispatching two teams of officials to Libya’s borders in Tunisia and Egypt to assess the need for emergency assistance as thousands of Libyans and foreigners fled the violence inside the country. USAID, she said, has set aside $10 million funds for humanitarian assistance and begun an inventory of American emergency food supplies.
She suggested that American Navy warships in the Mediterranean could provide assistance to future humanitarian missions, but she said their presence did not signal any American military operations. While she said the United States had not ruled out a no-flight zone, senior officials traveling with her made it clear now that the focus of diplomacy remained on economic and diplomatic efforts to isolate Colonel Gaddafi and his inner circle. Turkey was a rare Western-allied voice speaking against the campaign of pressure on Colonel Gaddafi.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking at a business conference in Germany, said: “People should not be forced to pay for the wrongdoings of their administrations. Any sanction or interference that would mean the punishment of Libyan people might cause grave, unacceptable problems.”
Mr. Erdogan also suggested that desire for Libya’s oil might warp the judgment of foreign countries.
“No one should calculate over oil wells in these countries – there is the problem,” Mr. Erdogan said. “If we are going to talk about democracy, basic rights and freedoms, and willing to make suggestions, let’s talk about these – not calculate the oil, because the bill, the price of this would be very heavy.”
In Benghazi, rebels have said that Libyan soldiers had joined the rebels in securing vital oil industry facilities around that part of the country. Some oil industry workers fleeing across the Tunisian border in recent days said they had seen Libyan soldiers fire their weapons to drive off foreign mercenaries or other security forces who had approached oil facilities not far from here.
Hassan Bulifa, who sits on the management committee of the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, the country’s largest oil producer, said Sunday that the rebels control at least 80 percent of the country’s oil assets, and that his company, based in Benghazi, was cooperating with them. The company resumed oil shipments on Sunday, loading two tankers at a port in Tobruk, Mr. Bulifa said. The ships – one bound for Austria and the other for China – represented the company’s first shipments since February 10.
Although the revenue from those sales goes the company’s umbrella organization, Libya’s National Oil Company, Mr. Bulifa said Arabian Gulf Oil had ceased any coordination with the national company, though it was honoring oil contracts. And he insisted the proceeds would ultimately flow to the rebels, not Colonel Gaddafi. “Gaddafi and his gangsters will not have a hand on them,” he said. “We are not worried about the revenues.”