Obama calls on Gaddafi to leave power

As Libyan leader strikes at rebels, US president says he has approved use of US military aircraft to pick up Egyptians on the Libya-Tunisia border.

March 4, 2011 05:06
4 minute read.
President Obama

Obama 311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

Muammar Gaddafi struck at rebel control of a key Libyan coastal road for a second day on Thursday but received a warning his regime would be held to account at the International Criminal Court for suspected crimes by his security forces.

Meanwhile, Venezuela said Gaddafi had agreed to its proposal for an international commission to negotiate an end to the turmoil in the world’s 12thlargest oil exporting nation, but a leader of the uprising rejected any proposal for talks with the dictator.

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US President Barack Obama called on Gaddafi to leave power and said he has approved the use of US military aircraft to pick up Egyptians on the Libya-Tunisia border.

“The US and the entire world continues to be outraged by the appalling violence against the Libyan people,” Obama told reporters at the White House, adding that “Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.”

Obama said he had directed the Pentagon to prepare for a full range of possible military options, one of which would be the imposition of a no-fly zone.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said France and Britain would support the idea of setting up a no-fly zone over Libya if Gaddafi’s forces continued to attack civilians.

In Libya’s east, the site of a struggle for control of a strategically vital Mediterranean coastal road and oil industry facilities, witnesses said a warplane for a second day bombed the oil terminal town of Brega, 800 km. east of Tripoli. Warplanes also carried out two raids against the nearby rebelheld town of Ajbadiya, witnesses said.

The International Criminal Court said on Thursday it will investigate Gaddafi, his sons and members of their inner circle for crimes committed by their security forces. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of The Hague-based international tribunal said no one had the authority to massacre civilians after a bloody crackdown on demonstrators against Gaddafi’s rule in which thousands may have died.

He said the court had identified several people at the top of the command chain who could be investigated. “They are Muammar Gaddafi, his inner circle including some of his sons, who had this de facto authority. There are also some people with formal authority who should pay attention to crimes committed by their people.”

Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told BBC Radio the news from The Hague was “close to a joke.”

“No fact-finding mission has been sent to Libya. No diplomats, no ministers, no NGOs or organizations of any type were sent to Libya to check the facts... No one can be sent to prison based on media reports,” he said.

At the same time, a UN report hailing Gaddafi’s rights record was sidelined by the world body’s Human Rights Council just a few days before it was due to be adopted. The report, reflecting a three-hour debate in the council in November, included praise for Libya from a range of countries that last Friday agreed that Gaddafi was a gross rights violator and backed his country’s removal from the body.

As diplomatic moves against Libya intensified, a spokesman for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Gaddafi ally, said the Libyan government had accepted a plan by Venezuela to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra also confirmed the Arab League had shown interest in the Chavez plan to send an international commission to talk with both sides in Libya. Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa said earlier that the plan was under consideration. Moussa said he himself had not agreed to it and did not know whether Gaddafi had done so. Chavez’s plan would involve a commission from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East trying to reach a negotiated outcome between the Libyan leader and rebel forces.

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But Al-Jazeera reported that the chairman of the rebels’ National Libyan Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, rejected any talks with Gaddafi. The rebels, armed with rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns and tanks, called on Wednesday for UN-backed air strikes on foreign mercenaries it said were fighting for Gaddafi.

Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, said the bombing of Brega was intended to scare off militia fighters and gain control of oil installations. On the ground, however, events appeared to turn against Gaddafi, as rebels spearheading the revolt pushed their front line against government loyalists west of Brega, where they had repulsed an attack a day earlier.

The opposition fighters said they had driven troops loyal to Gaddafi back to Ras Lanuf, home to another major oil terminal and 600 km. east of Tripoli, and also captured a group of mercenaries.

The US Defense Department on Thursday said it has evidence that the Libyan government has been using air power.

“We have seen very clearly broadcast reports showing effects of air power being used. Whether or not those were used on rebels, I can’t say but...there is evidence they have used air assets and drop coordinates,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. David Lapan told reporters.

On the Tunisian border, an organized international airlift relieved the high-pressure human flood from Libya into the country, as word spread to thousands of stranded refugees that planes were taking them home.

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