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Clinton urges Gaddafi to step down
US secretary of state says Gaddafi's government must be held to account as EU approves new sanctions against Libya.
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2011 01:19 GMT
The United States is seeking unified global action against Gaddafi and his regime [GALLO/GETTY] 

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has said the government of Muammar Gaddafi must be held to account over atrocities committed in Libya as she reiterated calls for the leader to step down.

Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, Clinton said Gaddafi must leave power "now, without further violence or delay".

"Gaddafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency," she said.

"We have seen Colonel Gaddafi's security forces open fire on peaceful protesters. They have used heavy weapons on unarmed civilians. Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack demonstrators."

Clinton said Washington was keeping "all options on the table" in terms of action against the government,  and that a no-fly zone was "an option we are actively considering".

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington is in talks with its NATO partners and other allies about military options for dealing with Libya.

A Pentagon official said the US military was repositioning naval and air forces around Libya.

"We have planners working and various contingency plans and I think it's safe to say as part of that we're repositioning
forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made ... to be able to provide options and flexibility," Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

Calls for no-fly zone

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the eastern city of Benghazi, where the opposition is in control, said people there were opposing any possible foreign military invention but would welcome a no-fly zone.

"They say that would diminish the ability of the regime to bring in mercenaries from Africa, those mercenaries that the opposition accuse of fighting alongside government forces," she said.

"Also, they say a no-fly zone will safeguard the opposition in the sense that it would prevent any kind of aerial bombardment. That's one thing people here are very scared of."

Read more of our Libya coverage

Clinton's comments came after the European Union approved its own sanctions including an arms embargo and travel bans against Libya.

"We are already working on EU restrictive measures that should come into force quickly," Catherine Ashton, the bloc's foreign policy chief, said at the UN human rights meeting.

"Together with that we will adopt additional accompanying measures such as an embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression and we're looking at individuals under the travel restrictions and the assets freeze."

The 27-nation bloc has agreed to freeze the assets of Gaddafi, his family and government, and ban the sale of goods such as tear gas and anti-riot equipment.

It is believed the EU sanctions are aimed at strengthening a raft of measures passed by the United Nations Security Council on Saturday, which include referring Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the ICC, said a preliminary investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed in Libya would begin on Monday.

"There will be no impunity for leaders involved in the commission of crimes," he said.

He said he would decide within a few days whether or not to launch a full investigation of alleged crimes committed since February 15, that would enable prosecutors to collect evidence and request an arrest warrant against those identified as responsible.

A growing number of world leaders are placing pressure on Gaddafi to step down amid a violent uprising.

On Sunday Britain and Canada followed moves by the US to freeze the assets of Gaddafi and his family, while on Monday Germany said it is proposing to freeze all financial payments to Libya for 60-days.

'Exile is an option'

Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, told the conference that the international community must support reforms in the Middle East in "words and deeds".

"The council should not relax its vigilance over Libya as the threat of violent reprisals against civilians still looms," she said.

"Although we have not seen credible independent evidence that Gaddafi has used jets to attack the protesters, that doesn't mean that he will not."

Ibrahim Sharquieh,
Brookings Doha Centre

The moves come amid growing outrage over the bloodshed in Libya, blamed on forces loyal to Gaddafi. The embattled leader remains defiant despite the opposition gaining ground across the country, and has vowed to purge the country of protesters "city by city, house by house".

The US is pressing Europe for tough sanctions on the Libyan government to turn up the heat on Gaddafi, saying that sanctions would convince the leader's remaining loyalists to abandon his regime.

"The US has a wider sanctions regime than the UN has decided and they would like the Europeans to step in on that," Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from Geneva, said.

Speaking in Cairo, John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two leading US senators, called for the immediate imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

They also urged the White House to recognise the "provisional government" set up by Gaddafi opponents in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ibrahim Sharquieh, the deputy director of the Brookings Doha Centre, said that  a "no-fly zone is certainly a good idea".

"Although we have not seen credible independent evidence that Gaddafi has used jets to attack the protesters, that doesn't mean that he will not."

David Cameron, the British prime minister, said the UK is working with its allies on a plan to establish a military no-fly zone over Libya, a move also mentioned by Jay Carney, a White House spokesman.

Carney added that Gaddafi could go into exile to help satisfy demands by the US for him to step down.

"Exile is certainly one option for him to affect that change," he said on Monday.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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