Wednesday, February 23, 2011

French president urges EU sanctions against Libya


PARIS (AP) — France pressed Wednesday for European Union sanctions against Libya's regime because of its bloody crackdown on protesters, while the European Union urged an independent probe into the violence and said it "may amount to crimes against humanity."

"The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting," French PresidentNicolas Sarkozy said, raising the possibility of cutting all economic and business ties between the EU and Libya. "The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights."

His comments came after the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday deplored the Libyan government's repression against its people and demanded that the violence cease immediately. Peru also suspended diplomatic relations with Libya and was asking the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace "to prevent the use of that country's warplanes against (its) population."

The European Union has faced criticism for an initially cautious, measured response to the bloodshed in Libya and in other Arab countries swept up in a wave of popular protests against authoritarian regimes. The bloc's 27 members have disagreed on how hard-hitting a tone to take against Libya, their neighbor across the Mediterranean and a major supplier of their oil.

But by Wednesday, momentum seemed to be building toward a tougher response to strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who has vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood."

The Libyan Embassy in Austria on Wednesday joined several other Libyan missions that have already distanced themselves from Gadhafi's government and condemned the use of "excessive violence against peaceful demonstrators."

The European Union president, Herman Van Rompuy, said during a visit to Prague that Libya has committed "horrible crimes that are unacceptable and must not remain without consequences."

Ahead of Friday's emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Libya, the EU pushed for an independent U.N.-led probe into the killing of protesters and other human rights abuses allegedly committed by Libyan security forces.

An EU draft resolution said the bloc "strongly condemns the recent extremely grave human rights violations committed in Libya, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, which if widespread and systematic, may amount to crimes against humanity."

France's president proposed sanctions including barring those implicated in the crackdown from the EU and monitoring their financial transactions. He also wants to ensure they are brought to justice.

A statement from the presidency added that Sarkozy wants to examine the possibility of suspending economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya.

Sarkozy's proposal was a sharp turnaround from 2007, when he hosted Gadhafi for a pomp-filled visit to Paris, and the two countries agreed on deals for arms and nuclear reactors worth billions of euros (dollars).

Germany's foreign minister said, meanwhile, that sanctions would be "inevitable" if the Libyan regime continues to put down protests violently.

"There is a great deal of agreement with many partners in the European Union here," Guido Westerwelle said. "I have no doubt that ... if this violence continues, everyone in Europe will know that this cannot go unanswered."

"I cannot imagine that, given these terrible pictures, these terrible events in our immediate neighborhood, any other policy is possible in Europe," he added.

In 2009, Libya's major export customers were European: Italy received about 38 percent of its exports, Germany had 10 percent, and France and Spain had about 8 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

That same year, Libya received nearly 19 percent of its total imports from Italy, followed by China at 10 percent, and Germany and Turkey at about 10 percent, the CIA reported. France accounted for less than 6 percent.

Libya's crackdown on protesters has killed nearly 300 people, according to a partial count by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of some 1,000 people killed in the violence in Libya were "credible," although he stressed that information about casualties was incomplete.

The crisis has sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years. On Wednesday, heavy gunfire broke out in Tripoli as forces loyal to Gadhafi tightened their grip on the capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere.


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