US, EU consider sanctions on Libya

White House calls violence "completely unacceptable;" EU says Gaddafi may be guilty of "crimes against humanity," considers cutting ties.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — The United States and the European Union said Wednesday it was considering sanctions and other means to pressure Muammar Gaddafi's regime to halt attacks against Libyans as violent clashes spread throughout the country.
"The violence is abhorrent, it is completely unacceptable and the bloodshed must stop," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. US President Barack Obama planned to speak publicly about the situation for the first time later Wednesday or Thursday.
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Carney said that "a lot of options are under review — sanctions, other options" to end the fighting in the North African country, where protesters are demanding an end to Gadhafi's 42-year reign but facing a fierce and bloody crackdown.
Obama had stayed silent in public as violence overtook Libya as the US focused on getting US citizens out of the country. Evacuations finally began Wednesday.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the US would ask other countries to get them to safety. He spoke as American and other non-Libyan passengers were boarding a ferry to leave Tripoli for the Mediterranean island of Malta.
"This is not about individual leaders. It's not about personalities," Carney said when asked Wednesday if Obama believes Gaddafi should continue to lead Libya. He said what was important that people's voices are heard.
Also on Wednesday, the EU declared that Gaddafi's fierce crackdown on Libyan protesters could be considered "crimes against humanity,"  vowing it stood ready to hit Libya with sanctions for the attacks.
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"The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement Wednesday, raising the possibility of cutting off all economic and business ties between the EU and Libya. "The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights."
The European Union has faced criticism for an initially cautious, measured response to the bloodshed in Libya and in other Arab countries swept up in a wave of popular protests against authoritarian regimes. The bloc's 27 members have disagreed on how hard-hitting a tone to take against Libya, their neighbor across the Mediterranean and a major supplier of their oil.
But by Wednesday, momentum seemed to be building toward a tougher response to Gaddafi, who has vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood."
"A political leader who has decided to bomb his own citizens has lost all legitimacy to continue leading his country," Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said.
After a meeting of EU ambassadors, the bloc did not announce sanctions, but EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU stood "ready to take further measures" beyond suspending talks on a bilateral deal.
The precise measures were still being negotiated, a senior EU official said, adding that there were up to 10,000 EU citizens in Libya, sparking worries about getting them out of the North African country safely. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said Libya has committed "horrible crimes that are unacceptable and must not remain without consequences."
In addition, the UN's top human rights official said a no-fly zone could be imposed over Libya to protect civilians from attacks by government aircraft. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday if unconfirmed reports of aerial attacks against civilians turned out to be true, "I think there's an immediate need for that level of protection."
The comments came after the UN Security Council on Tuesday demanded the violence in Libya stop immediately and Peru suspended diplomatic relations with Libya.