WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Friday and readied stiff financial and other penalties against Muammar Gaddafi and his loyalists, ending days of cautious condemnation by all but calling for the unpredictable leader's immediate ouster.
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Gaddafi's legitimacy has been "reduced to zero," the White House said as it announced the steps.
The sharper U.S. tone and pledges of tough action came after American diplomatic personnel were evacuated from the capital of Tripoli aboard a chartered ferry and a chartered airplane, escorting them away from the violence to Malta and Turkey. As they left, fighting raged on in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya as Gaddafi vowed to crush the rebellion that now controls large parts of the country.
With U.S. diplomats and others out of harm's way, the administration moved swiftly. Shortly after the chartered plane left Libyan airspace, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. had been constrained in moving against Gaddafi and his loyalists due to concerns over the safety of Americans but was now ready to bring more pressure on the government to halt its attacks on opponents.
"It's clear that Colonel Gaddafi has lost the confidence of his people," Carney told reporters. "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."
The White House was finalizing a presidential executive order that would name Gaddafi and his family, impose travel bans and freeze 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 is to encourage Gaddafi loyalists to defect.
Carney said sanctions would "make it clear that the regime has to stop its abuses, it has to stop the bloodshed." International officials say thousands may be dead.
But the hesitancy to outline the full range of U.S. punishments reflected in part the administration's skepticism that it had many options to influence Gaddafi. The 68-year-old has had a rocky relationship with the West, and American officials are worried about his unpredictability as he desperately seeks to maintain his four-decade grip on power.
U.S. military action is considered unlikely, although the Obama administration has not ruled out participation in an internationally-administered protective no-fly zone.
Carney said some sanctions would be unilateral, and others would be coordinated with international allies and the United Nations, whose chief, Ban Ki-moon, was invited to Washington for Monday talks with President Barack Obama.
Carney cited U.N. negotiations on a possible weapons embargo, but declined to lay out the independent steps the U.S. would take.
The Treasury Department had already ordered American banks to scrutinize accounts linked to senior Libyan officials and inform authorities of any attempts to misappropriate or divert public funds.
The U.S. suspended operations at its Tripoli embassy after a chartered flight took the last embassy staff out of the country at 1:49 p.m. EST. That followed a ferry that departed earlier Friday and arrived in Malta with nearly 338 passengers aboard, including 183 Americans.
The U.S., however, did not break diplomatic relations with Libya because it wants to retain the ability to communicate directly with Libyan officials to appeal for restraint and an end to the violence, State Department officials said. The embassy will be re-opened once security conditions permit, they said.
The administration stressed that the U.S. pressure was part of a broader movement to bring peace to Libya, with several officials saying the international community was speaking with a single voice on the matter. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is headed to Switzerland on Sunday to meet foreign policy chiefs from key allies. Officials said she might announce specifics of the U.S. sanctions on Monday.
But whereas French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Gaddafi to step down, the U.S. refrained – just barely – from a similar declaration.
"The status quo is simply neither tenable nor acceptable," Carney said. "The Libyan people deserve a government now that protects the safety of its citizens, is responsive to their aspirations and is broadly representative."
Obama was briefing world leaders on U.S. plans and coordinating the international pressure on Gaddafi's government. He spoke Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and they discussed measures to hold Libya's government accountable for its "unacceptable" violence. That followed Thursday's discussions with leaders from Britain, France and Italy.
The U.S. maintained a stiff embargo against Libya for years, calling it a terrorist sponsor. Washington eased restrictions over the past several years in recognition of Gaddafi's decision to renounce his nuclear weapons program and his cooperation in anti-terror operations. Carney said the U.S. would suspend the limited military cooperation it had with the country.
Libya ranks among the world's most corrupt countries and has enormous assets to plunder. Confidential State Department cables suggest that U.S. banks manage hundreds of millions in Libyan assets and the government has built a multibillion-dollar wealth fund from oil sales.
In Geneva, U.S. diplomats joined a unanimous condemnation of Libya at the U.N. Human Rights Council, which launched an investigation into possible crimes against humanity by Gaddafi's regime and recommended Libya's suspension from the body.
The U.N. Security Council in New York was discussing action simultaneously Friday, and NATO was talking about deploying ships and surveillance aircraft to the Mediterranean Sea.
Carney insisted the sanctions could work.
"Sanctions that affect the senior political leadership of a regime like Libya have been shown to have an effect," he said. We are also ... pursuing actions that will ensure that the perpetrators of violations of human rights are held accountable."
03/11/2011 6:31 PM EST
U.S. Extends Sanctions On Libya
Reports the AP:
The Obama administration extended its Libya sanctions to more Gadhafi family members and close advisers on Thursday, blacklisting business with the Libyan leader's wife, four of his children and his chief of military intelligence.
The Treasury Department froze the assets of nine Libyans in all as part of the strategy to peel off Moammar Gadhafi's closest advisers while punishing those who remain loyal to the regime even as it commits human rights violations.
The sanctions come on top of those previously announced by the administration, which accounted for $32 billion in Libyan government assets blocked in the United States.
03/11/2011 5:33 PM EST
Sarkozy Calls For Air Strikes If Gaddafi Attacks Civilians
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for airstrikes against Gaddafi forces if the leader attacks civilians. According to the Guardian:
Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's regime if his forces use chemical weapons or launch air strikes against civilians.
As the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives in Libya, the French president told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes may soon be justified.
"The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters," Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs".
03/11/2011 5:06 PM EST
Dutch Helicopter Crew Freed
A Dutch helicopter crew taken captive in Libya has been freed and sent to Greece. The BBC is reporting:
The two men and one woman arrived in Athens on a Greek military transport plane hours after a son of Muammar Gaddafi announced their release.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said Libya would hold on to the crew's Lynx helicopter.
The woman pilot, Yvonne Niersman, took part in a mission last year to free a German ship from Somali pirates.
Ms Niersman and her fellow crew members were captured in Libya after flying in from the Dutch warship Tromp, anchored off the coast.
Read the entire report here.
03/11/2011 4:43 PM EST
McCain Praises Moroccan King
Senator John McCain praised Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his pledge to introduce democratic reforms. According to the AFP:
"This new reform agenda builds on the king's long-standing commitment to lead Morocco to a future of reform and modernization, and it could ensure that the Kingdom of Morocco will continue to stand as a positive example to governments across the Middle East and North Africa," said McCain.
03/11/2011 3:40 PM EST
Gaddafi Offers Amnesty To Rebels
Reuters is reporting that Gaddafi is now offering to offer amnesty to those rebels who lay own arms.
03/11/2011 3:28 PM EST
2 Protesters Killed In Tunisia
The AP reports:
Tunisia's Interior Ministry says a new eruption of violence between police and protesters has killed two people and injured 20.
The ministry says on its Facebook page that police fired tear gas and demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs.
The statement says two protesters were killed in the incident in Metlaoui, a mining town in the center of the Mediterranean country.
The violence comes as Tunisia's interim government is trying to restore stability after deadly protests that drove out longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. That prompted uprisings around the Arab world.
03/11/2011 2:39 PM EST
Berlusconi Says Hardline With Gaddafi A Mistake
Berlusconi is saying that the West may have made a mistake by taking a hardline against Gaddafi, which may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner. Reports Reuters:
The hardline stance taken by major powers against Muammar Gaddafi may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner and prevented a quiet exit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday. Speaking after a special meeting of EU leaders, Berlusconi, one of Gaddafi's closest friends in Europe until the current upheaval, said the chances of persuading him to give up power voluntarily now appeared to have disappeared.
"Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don't think anyone can make him change his mind," he told reporters.
Read the entire report here.
03/11/2011 2:16 PM EST
Who Are The Libyan Rebels?
The AP is reporting that the rebels fighting Gaddafi forces are amateurs, but deeply committed to the cause:
Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya since long before the 25-year-old was born, and he hates the dictator enough to risk his life by fighting for the ragtag rebel force battling government troops along a desolate highway on the North African country's Mediterranean coast.
"I will fight forever. I will die or win, like Omar Mukhtar," said Salem, invoking the legendary Libyan hero who fought Italian occupiers in the 1930s, was ultimately executed, and has become a symbol for the new revolutionaries.
The front-line force trying to advance toward Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital Tripoli is surprisingly small. Not counting supporters who bolster them in the towns along their path, it is estimated at 1,500 at most — Libyans from all walks of life, from students and coffeeshop owners to businessmen who picked up whatever weapons they could and joined the fight. No one seems to know their full size, and they could be picking up new members all the time.
Its ramshackle nature explains the dramatic lurches the fighting has taken. Last week, they took control over a stretch of Mediterranean coastal land that included major oil installations in the ports of Brega and Ras Lanouf. They charged enthusiastically further west, reaching within a few dozen miles of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a bastion of support for the leader of 41 years.
03/11/2011 1:03 PM EST
Gaddafi Forces Show Signs Of Victory
Reports the AP:
Moammar Gadhafi's regime has gained momentum with the capture of a key city near Tripoli after days of fierce fighting with rebels.
The battle for Zawiya has emerged as a key test in the government's ability to maintain its hold on the Libyan capital and surrounding areas.
The government had claimed victory on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.
An Associated Press reporter, who was escorted with other journalists into the city on Friday, says the main square that had been the center of resistance is clearly in government control.
03/11/2011 12:47 PM EST
Obama On Libya
Obama noted all of the sanctions and property seizures that have already been implemented against Gaddafi, saying, "Across the board, we are tightening the noose on Gaddafi." He says that NATO is discussing potential military actions in Libya, including a no-fly zone, and will meet on Tuesday. He said that a position will be created for a liaison to speak with Libyan opposition groups. He said that the international community had moved quickly to isolate Gaddafi.
Obama said that no options have been taken off the table so far. In response to a question about whether it would ever be acceptable to the U.S. for Gaddafi to stay in power, Obama stated that "it is in the U.S.' interest and the interest of the Libyan people for Gaddafi to leave." He added, however, that when making a decision to engage militarily, he would weigh the "costs and benefits."