The United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to freeze the foreign assets of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and four aides and to bar them from traveling, in the broadest international effort to halt his regime’s attacks on protesters.
The resolution also imposes an arms embargo on Libya and calls for an immediate end to violence that it says “may amount to crimes against humanity.” The measure sends the allegations to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for investigation and possible prosecution.
“Referring the case to the International Criminal Court shows that those who commit crimes against their own people will personally be held accountable,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said today in an e-mailed statement.
The unanimous passage late yesterday of the resolution that was circulated by Britain and France followed a plea by Libyan Ambassador Mohammed Shalgham for the UN to “save” his nation. Shalgham, in an emotional speech to the Security Council on Feb. 25, broke with the Qaddafi regime and asked that sanctions be adopted.
“This resolution represents moral support for our people who are resisting,” Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN, said after the vote, which came amid reports that forces loyal to Qaddafi were reinforcing in capital, Tripoli, after army units defected in the east of the North African country.
On the roads between the Egyptian border and the eastern town of Benghazi, heavily armed anti-Qaddafi protesters and military units that defected set up tents, some of them welcoming passersby with juice and sweets. In Benghazi and other eastern towns, public buildings including police stations flew the red, black and green flag of Libyan monarchy which Qaddafi overthrew when he came to power in 1969.
Egyptian volunteer doctors said most of the violence in Benghazi took place around the main army headquarters and began when mercenaries opened fire on protesters. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says more than 1,000 people have died in the unrest.
Several witnesses in Tripoli said forces loyal to the Libyan leader had shot people from ambulances, used antiaircraft guns against crowds, and removed dead bodies from hospitals to try to obscure the death toll, the New York Times reported.
The Security Council met in New York as leaders from Washington to Ankara engaged in a flurry of phone calls to discuss the next steps.
With French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama saying it’s time for Qaddafi to go, the U.S. and its allies were trying to working out how to quell the violence without intervening militarily.
Obama took the first step in what his administration said will be a series of sanctions against the Libyan government, signing an order on Feb. 25 freezing any U.S. assets of Qaddafi, his family and members of his regime.
U.K. officials have identified billions of pounds in assets held by Qaddafi in British banks and are planning to freeze them, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing an unidentified official with knowledge of the matter. Switzerland on Feb. 24 froze the assets of Qaddafi and his entourage for three years.
Obama told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call yesterday 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,” according to a statement from the White House.
“The unanimity of the resolution makes clear the unity of the international community of nations in condemning Qaddafi,” Merkel said today in an e-mailed statement. “It’s high time for him to go.”
The UN resolution bars the travel of other family members and officials, including seven sons of Qaddafi, his daughter, a cousin and a brother-in-law. The text, while referring the allegations to the International Criminal Court, cites as authorization for the sanctions a provision of the UN Charter that precludes military intervention.
One of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, said three-quarters of Libya is under the control of the regime and “living in peace,” even amid the signs of civil war.
Libya should move toward a regime change and a new constitution peacefully after Qaddafi called for the changes, the son said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television aired yesterday. Otherwise, it “risks becoming like Somalia,” he said, denying that mercenaries were brought in to fight anti-government protesters.
The prospect of civil war in North Africa’s biggest oil producer has pushed crude prices to a 2 1/2-year high, and led to calls for action to stop the worst violence seen in the two months of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa.
Crude oil for April delivery climbed 60 cents, or 0.6 percent, to settle at $97.88 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Feb. 25, the most recent day of trading. U.S. oil rose to $103.41 on Feb. 24, the highest intraday price since Sept. 29, 2008.
“There isn’t a clear end-game here,” Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t a rebel army marching on Tripoli attempting to take it over from Qaddafi.”
Protesters streamed into squares across the region Feb. 25 after Friday prayers to demand more rights two weeks after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak as Egyptian president. Demonstrations took place in Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia, the country that sparked the unrest sweeping the Middle East when President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted.
Unrest spread to Oman today, with police firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the industrial city of Sohar, Reuters reported, citing unidentified witnesses. The protesters were demanding political reforms, it said. Protests were also taking place in the southern town of Salalah, according to the news agency.
U.K. Defense Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday two Royal Air Force C130 Hercules aircraft have evacuated more than 150 other civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi, an eastern city that’s under rebel control, according to an e-mailed statement distributed by the Foreign Office in London.
The U.K. has also arranged for HMS Cumberland, which Feb. 25 evacuated 207 civilians to Malta from Libya, to return to Benghazi today “to evacuate any remaining entitled persons,” the statement said.
A chartered ferry carrying mostly U.S. citizens and diplomatic staff arrived at Malta late Feb. 25, where many were rushed into treatment for dehydration and sea sickness.
The French embassy in Tripoli suspended operations today due to the deteriorating security situation in Libya, the French Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement. An air force flight will bring 122 people today back to France from Libya, including the embassy staff and ambassador. Some others have decided to remain there, the ministry said. France evacuated 654 people to date, 498 of which are French.
A ship chartered by the Chinese government to evacuate its citizens arrived in Malta yesterday bringing 3,000 nationals. At Tripoli airport, panicked crowds tried to storm the terminal to get on flights leaving the city, the Financial Times reported yesterday, citing eyewitnesses.
Signaling that political unity may be hard to achieve, Turkey’s Erdogan said sanctions would do more harm than good for Libyans.
“Libyans who face starvation and death will face more difficulties and desperation in the event of sanctions,” he said. “The Middle East and Africa have been viewed by the West as merely sources of oil and used as pawns in oil wars for decades. People take to the streets because they are fed up with being used as pawns in oil wars for decades.”