Obama: Gaddafi has lost legitimacy to rule, must leave

Comments mark first time Washington asks Libyan leader to step down; US imposes sanctions on Libya, sets travel bans on Gaddafi family.

Obama close up 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Obama close up 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
WASHINGTON – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has “lost the legitimacy to rule” and should leave now, US President Barack Obama said Saturday. Mr Obama made the comments during a phone call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday – as the dictator began arming his civilian supporters to quash dissent.
The White House said in a statement about the call: “The president stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”
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America imposed unilateral sanctions on Libya Friday and temporarily closed its embassy there as Western leaders pushed to end Gaddafi’s use of violence in his quest to cling to power.
Though the US has criticized Gaddafi for using force against civilian protesters throughout the week, the moves Friday were the strongest steps the US has taken to pressure an Arab leader in the face of street protests roiling the Middle East as greater freedom and representative government is demanded.
The American measures come as the UN Security Council and Human Right Council also works to take action against Libya.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said sanctions would “make it clear that the regime has to stop its abuses; it has to stop the bloodshed.
“It’s clear that Colonel Gaddafi has lost the confidence of his people,” Carney added. “He is overseeing the brutal treatment of his people. The fatal violence against his own people and his legitimacy has been reduced to zero in the eyes of his people.”
There had been some criticism that the White House wasn’t taking a harder line on Libya, but Carney indicated the US was ready to act aggressively once the safety of American citizens could be assured. Shortly before Carney spoke, large numbers of Americans, including State Department personnel, left on a chartered ferry and plane.
The White House announced on Saturday that it was releasing a presidential executive order that would impose travel bans on Gaddafi and his family and freeze their assets, according to an administration official familiar with the document who spoke on condition of anonymity because it had not yet been made public. Part of the goal of such efforts was to encourage Gaddafi loyalists to defect.
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American military action is considered unlikely, although the Obama administration has not ruled out participation in an internationally-administered protective no-fly zone, and Carney did not rule out a possible arms embargo.
The Treasury Department has already ordered American banks to scrutinize accounts linked to senior Libyan officials and inform authorities of any attempts to misappropriate or divert public funds.
In addition, the US embassy in Tripoli suspended operations in Friday, citing security concerns.
“When the situation becomes significantly insecure, it is at that point prudent to continue our diplomatic activities with a country via other means,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy said in a briefing with reporters, pointing to “the chaos in the streets, the gunfire at night, beginning in the last couple of days, even gunfire during the day.”
America, however, hasn’t broken diplomatic relations in order to keep channels of communication between the two countries open, according to the administration. William Burns, the number three at the State Department, spoke to the Libyan foreign minister Friday among other conversations between American and Libyan representatives.
Top US officials have been conversing with their European and Middle East counterparts to try to resolve the Libyan crisis as quickly as possible, as well as provide some semblance of stability in the region.
Over the past two days, Obama had consulted with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the international response to events in Libya.
Meanwhile, the US continues to reach out to Arab countries around the region in an appeal that they not use violence against protesters and that they implement democratic and economic reforms called for by their publics.
On Thursday, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon spoke with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to express strong support for his National Dialogue initiative. Donilon welcomed these and other steps “to initiate an open dialogue on political reform with the full spectrum of Bahraini society” and “urged continued restraint by Bahraini security forces,” a statement put out by the White House Friday said.
“As a long-standing partner of Bahrain, the United States believes that the stability of Bahrain depends upon respect for the universal rights of the people of Bahrain, including the right to peaceful assembly, and a process of meaningful reform that is responsive to the aspirations of all Bahrainis,” it concluded.
Meanwhile, assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is traveling to Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates through Wednesday.
American officials have also been trying to reassure close allies, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who themselves have been shaken by the protests as well as what they see as insufficient US support for Arab leaders long allied with America.