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U.S. Sends Refugee Aid as Pressure Grows on Qaddafi to Quit

U.S. Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said for the first time yesterday that the U.S. has begun “reaching out” to Libyans organizing for a post-Qaddafi era. Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The international community intensified pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to quit, as clashes were reported near the capital and the U.S. and its allies threatened to impose a no-fly zone to prevent his forces from launching air strikes against opposition-held areas.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after meeting with foreign ministers in Geneva, said the U.S. is responding to the refugee crisis by allocating $10 million for humanitarian assistance and immediately sending aid teams to the Tunisian and Egyptian borders with Libya. The foreign ministers discussed sanctions on Qaddafi’s regime and other measures to “support the Libyan people,” she said.

In the latest clashes, three soldiers from a force loyal to Qaddafi were killed in clashes with protesters in Zawiyah, Al Arabiya reported, citing rebels in the town. It said that Qaddafi’s troops were trying take control of the town, 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Tripoli and the nearest population center to fall to the rebels. An Associated Press reporter saw a large pro-Qaddafi force massed on the western edge of town with about a dozen armored vehicles and tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people have died in the uprising and almost 100,000 have fled amid the heaviest fighting in six weeks of unrest that swept parts of North Africa and the Persian Gulf, home of the world’s biggest oil reserves. Armed anti-government forces control much of Libya’s east and have deployed tanks and anti-aircraft weapons to defend Zawiyah, according to the Associated Press.

Shares Tumble

Middle East shares tumbled today, sending Dubai’s stock index to the lowest level in almost seven years, as political unrest in the region spread to the Sultanate of Oman and reignited in Tunisia, prompting investors to trim riskier assets.

“Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack,” Clinton said in Geneva today at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. ‘We will continue to explore all possible options for action -- as we have said, nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens.’’

Libyan rebels are organizing in the eastern port of Benghazi, the biggest city they control. On the roads between Benghazi and the Egyptian border, anti-Qaddafi protesters carrying assault rifles and former soldiers in uniform set up tents and searched passing cars for weapons, some of them welcoming passersby with juice and sweets.

‘Qaddafi Out’

There were no major clashes yesterday, though gunfire was heard in Tripoli after nightfall, the AP said. In Zawiyah, hundreds of people chanted “Qaddafi out!,” it said.

“We’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and, as the revolution moves westward, there as well,” Clinton said en route to Geneva, where she met today with officials from the European Union and Russia to discuss the crisis. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged a 60-day freeze on oil payments to Libya and said the imposition of a no-fly zone over the country is under discussion today.

Crude oil for April delivery declined 48 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $97.40 a barrel at 9:21 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange as Saudi Arabia offered to make up for supplies lost because of unrest in Libya and on reports the North African country is exporting crude.

Regional Unrest

Futures reached $103.41 a barrel on Feb. 24, the highest intraday level since Sept. 29, 2008. Prices rose 14 percent last week, the most in two years.

The regional unrest that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reached Oman, where two demonstrators were killed yesterday and several were wounded in clashes with security forces in the city of Sohar, according to hospital and government officials.

Demonstrations in Sohar resumed today, and a hypermarket in the coastal city was set on fire as hundreds gathered to protest and roads were closed. Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the ruler since 1970, has told the government to create 50,000 jobs and boost allowances for those without full-time work.

Oman, where companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA have a stake in the oil industry, produces about 800,000 barrels a day and lies at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes.

Oman Impact

Oman’s benchmark MSM30 stock index slumped 4.9 percent, the biggest drop for more than two years. In Dubai the main index fell 3.8 percent to a seven-year low. The Bloomberg GCC 200 index of regional shares fell 1 percent.

In Tunisia, where the regional turmoil began two months ago, protests have flared up again, forcing interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi to resign after at least three people were killed. The demonstrators had called for the removal of Ghannouchi because of his links with former ruler Ben Ali, who fled the country on Jan. 14. Interim President Fouad Mebazaa named former foreign minister Beji Caid Essebsi as the new prime minister and appealed for calm.

In Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier, activists and academics yesterday called on King Abdullah to increase political rights and move toward a constitutional monarchy. Libya and Saudi Arabia are among the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps about 40 percent of the world’s oil.

Yemen Protests

Yemeni opposition movements, which have been holding daily protests demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after more than three decades, today refused an offer by Saleh to form a national unity government, al-Jazeera television said. Thirteen lawmakers quit Yemen’s parliament today to protest violence against demonstrators, as the government said three security officers have been killed in recent days.

International efforts to end Qaddafi’s attacks on the Libyan rebels and force him from power have shifted to Geneva, “It is time for Qaddafi to go -- now, without further violence or delay,” Clinton said today.

The possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, which would prevent Qaddafi loyalists from carrying out aerial attacks on the opposition, is being debated at today’s meeting in Geneva, Westerwelle said.

The UN Security Council voted 15-0 on Feb. 26 to freeze the foreign assets of Qaddafi and four aides and to bar them from traveling. 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.”

Qaddafi’s Assets

Qaddafi’s family has no bank accounts abroad, Libya’s state television reported today, citing the leader’s son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi.

Governments throughout the world have rushed to get their nationals out of Libya. China has evacuated about 29,000 people, state news agency Xinhua said today, and Turkey said 18,000 of its citizens have been removed. The U.K. and Germany sent military missions to help with the evacuation.

Qaddafi remained defiant yesterday as he said he would remain in Libya and quash the rebellion. “The people of Libya support me,” he said in a telephone interview with Serbia’s Pink television station, according to a report by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper. “Small groups of rebels are surrounded and will be dealt with.”

Egypt stock trading is set to resume tomorrow after a suspension of more than a month amid a popular revolution that toppled the 30-year-old regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. The measure lost 16 percent the week ended Jan. 27, when it last traded. The Tunisian bourse suspended trading from today until further notice, the bourse said on its website.

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