UNITED NATIONS — UN Security Council members were mulling ways to punish Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his family and his cohorts after the country's ambassador to the UN beseeched them to help halt the deadly attacks that his once-close comrade has unleashed on anti-government protesters.
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"I hope that within hours, not days, they can do something tangible, effective to stop what they are doing there — Gadhafi and his sons — against our people," Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham said after addressing the council Friday.
Under pressure from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take concrete action to protect civilians, the council agreed to meet urgently again Saturday. Up for consideration are an arms embargo against the government and a travel ban and asset freeze against Gaddafi, his relatives and key members of his government.
The draft sanctions resolution circulated by France, Britain, Germany and the United States also would refer the violent crackdown in Libya to the International Criminal Court so it can investigate possible crimes against humanity.
Ban said some estimates indicate more than 1,000 people have been killed in less than two weeks since the protests broke out in the North African country, and that many people cannot leave their homes for fear of being shot. "In these circumstances, the loss of time means more loss of lives," the UN chief said.
Council members were visibly moved by the speech by Shalgham, who only on Tuesday had praised Gaddafi as "my friend" and refused to join other diplomats at Libya's UN mission in demanding that the strongman step down.
"They are asking for their freedom. They are asking for their rights," Shalgham told the council "They did not throw a single stone and they were killed. I tell my brother Gaddafi: 'Leave the Libyans alone.' "
After his speech, the ambassador was embraced by his tearful deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who had led the mutiny against Gaddafi at the UN headquarters. As Dabbashi wept, he was also embraced by many ambassadors and the secretary-general.
A nonviolent revolt against Gaddafi's four-decade-old rule began Feb. 15 amid a wave of uprisings across the region and has swept over most of the country's eastern half. Witnesses say Gaddafi's government has responded by shooting on protesters in numerous cities. Loyalist militias on Friday opened fire on thousands of demonstrators in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
For the second time this week, the Security Council called for "an immediate end to the violence," expressing grave concern at the deteriorating situation, particularly "reports of civilian casualties on a very large scale."
France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after Friday's council session that there is broad agreement among the council's 15 members on an asset freeze and travel ban, which will specifically name about 20 people, and on an arms embargo.
He said referring Libya to the ICC, the war crimes tribunal, "is a sensitive topic" because some council members are not parties to the treaty that established it including the US, China, Russia, Lebanon, India and Gabon.
But Araud said referring Libya to the war crimes tribunal is necessary because "horrendous crimes are (being) committed in Libya."
Araud said the proposed sanctions do not include a no-fly zone over Libya — as some Gaddafi opponents have called for — because "you need planes and bases and it's a war operation." He also said any UN-sanctioned military action "is not an option at this stage."
In Washington, the White House announced sweeping new sanctions and temporarily abandoned its embassy in Tripoli as a final flight carrying American citizens left the embattled capital.
In Brussels, NATO held an emergency meeting Friday on the deteriorating situation in Libya but took no action. Its chief said it had no plans to intervene
The Security Council met in New York hours after the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva called for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity and recommended Libya's suspension from membership of the top human rights body.
Araud said the UN General Assembly in New York would consider the recommendation for suspension early next week, with a vote by two-thirds of the 192 member states necessary to kick Libya off the rights council.
The Human Rights Council's unanimous decision during an emergency
meeting came after the entire Libyan diplomatic delegation based in
Geneva renounced Gaddafi — swelling a rebellion of Libyan officials
around the globe.
Also Friday, senior Libyan diplomats in Portugal, France, Sweden and at
the UN's cultural and education organization UNESCO publicly renounced
Shalgham, the Libyan ambassador to the UN, said he initially "could not
imagine" Gaddafi's troops were firing on the protesters. But after
seeing the Libyan leader call for the protests to be put down by force,
he was now urging for sanctions.
"I was one of his closest, good friends, who worked with him at the
beginning of the revolution," Shalgham told reporters after the session.
"We started with the revolution and the freedom, and at the end of it
we were killing our own people."