Prime Minister David Cameron told Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to give his people a chance at democracy, while apologizing to Britons for delays in bringing them home from the violence racking the country.
“My question right now would be to Colonel Qaddafi, ‘What on earth do you think you are doing? Stop it,’” Cameron said in a question-and-answer-session on Al Jazeera television broadcast on Google Inc.’s YouTube website today. “Give your people a chance of freedom, democracy and a better future, which is what everyone in this world wants and desires.”
Qaddafi has tightened his grip on Libya’s capital, Tripoli, after eastern cities fell to his opponents in an uprising against his 41-year rule over the North African country. A plane sent to pick up Britons from Tripoli yesterday was delayed by technical faults. “British Rescue Turns to Farce” was the front-page headline on today’s Daily Mail newspaper.
“Of course I am incredibly sorry,” Cameron said in an interview with BBC television in Oman. Those awaiting evacuation “have had a difficult time. The conditions at the airport have been extremely poor.”
Cameron ended a four-day tour of the Middle East today, urging the region’s leaders to offer more political and economic openness in response to the wave of protests against autocratic regimes from Algeria to the Persian Gulf. The international community may need to take action to halt attempts by Qaddafi to crush the revolt against his regime, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will return early from a holiday abroad to attend a meeting of the National Security Council tomorrow, his spokeswoman said.
“The behavior of this dictator can’t be allowed to stand; that sort of behavior must have consequences,” Cameron told the BBC. Asked if Qaddafi is sane, the premier replied that the Libyan leader is “someone who is clearly behaving in a totally and utterly unacceptable way to their own people. You don’t have to be a doctor or a medic to know that, it’s just a fact.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said the odds are increasing that Qaddafi’s regime will fall, adding that Britain and other nations must step up pressure after the Libyan leader used military force against his own people.
President Barack Obama said yesterday the U.S. is examining all options to end the violence against anti-government demonstrators. He is dispatching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a meeting in Geneva to work with her counterparts from other nations on a coordinated response.
About 300 people have been killed in the violence, Human Rights Watch said. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said there are “credible” reports that 1,000 people have died.
Qaddafi’s government “seems to be determined” to take a last stand, Hague told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The odds are stacking heavily against him.”
Hague chaired a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, known as Cobra, in London today. Overnight, Cameron ordered a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules to fly from Malta to Tripoli to collect remaining British citizens from the city. The plane has now left Tripoli, following two previous flights, carrying more than 270 people and one dog, the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense said in e-mailed statements.
That means all the Britons who were at Tripoli airport are on their way home, though more may yet appear, according to British officials. About 150 Britons may remain in desert areas where they’re working for oil companies, the officials said, alongside a further 100 in the eastern city of Benghazi.
A Royal Navy frigate, HMS Cumberland, arrived in the port city to take evacuees to Malta, while 26 Britons are also due to leave Benghazi on a Turkish ferry, the Foreign Office said.
“We’re expecting to take upwards of 150 on board” the frigate, Defense Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC. “Some will be foreign nationals as well as U.K. citizens, but that seems to be going peacefully and safely. At the moment the weather’s not very good, but we expect Cumberland to sail before very long.”
“We have to plan very carefully for what we can do, with the companies concerned, for all those people who are out in the desert working for various businesses out there,” Cameron told the BBC when asked about the remaining Britons. “We will try and get all of those people home and we are working around the clock to get that done.”
Last night, Hague ordered a review of the government’s evacuation procedures, following criticism of slowness in responding to the crisis and the delay to the first rescue flight.
Britain’s Labour Party opposition said the delay called Cameron’s judgment into question.
“There are very serious questions of ministerial judgment, as well as the obvious technical issues which meant that the aircraft they had chartered sat on the runway at Gatwick for 10 hours yesterday afternoon,” the party’s work and pensions spokesman Douglas Alexander told BBC News television today. “That means that the British government didn’t act as quickly as other governments to ensure that there was a chartered aircraft available to get on the ground in Tripoli and to get British nationals out.”
The fighting in Libya is the most violent yet in six weeks of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, which have already unseated longtime rulers in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya holds Africa’s largest oil reserves and oil prices topped $100 a barrel yesterday for the first time since October 2008 on concern supplies may be disrupted as the unrest spreads.
Sanctions will “have to be looked at” if the violence continues, Cameron told the BBC. “Britain, with her allies, should be looking at all of the options for the future.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy urged France’s European Union partners to consider sanctions against Libya yesterday. Asked about the possibility of military action, Cameron said: “I don’t think we’re at that stage yet.”
The United Nations Security Council condemned the Libyan regime’s use of violence against protesters when it met two days ago, without taking any further action.
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