Libya: The Gaddafis between the devil and the deep blue sea

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Following reports that the death toll may have climbed to nearly 2000 since the beginning of anti-government protests in Libya, France has embarked on a massive operation to push Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, out of power. Whilst France has increased efforts to regain its image following a gaffe by its former foreign secretary, many countries around the world have moved to impose an assets freeze and travel ban on the Gaddafi clan and inner circle. Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle are holed up in Tripoli as the net closes in on them.

France has announced that two planes carrying medical personnel, equipment and humanitarian support are soon to arrive in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

Speaking on RTL radio from the French capital, Paris, Prime Minister François Fillion said that France is “studying all options to ensure that Colonel Gaddafi understands that he has to go.” According to him, “military options” including a “a no-fly zone over Libyan territory” are being examined by the French government.

“Gaddafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency,” U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said today while denouncing Gaddafi’s use of “mercenaries” to harm unarmed demonstrators. She also accused the embattled leader of killing military personnel who refused to turn their guns against their own people.

“In a few hours two airplanes will leave for Benghazi at the request of the French government with doctors, nurses, medical equipment, and it will mark the start of a massive humanitarian aid operation for the people in the liberated territories,” the Prime Minister said.

But while France says it cannot take a unilateral decision to intervene militarily in Libya without having come to an agreement with the international community and its NATO allies, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has cautioned that “here will be a day of reckoning and the reach of international justice can be long (…) to anyone contemplating the abuse of human rights in Libya or any other country.”

Echoing Mrs. Clinton’s statement, made today in Geneva, that “Gaddafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Monday, condemned the use of brutal force on civilians as “unacceptable”.

French opportunity

Many analysts believe that the Libyan situation, as sad as it is, presents France a golden opportunity to regain its image of “le pays de droits de l’homme”. This follows a gaffe made by Michelle Aliot Marie, French foreign minister during the beginning of the Tunisian popular revolt. Madame Alliot Marie had suggested that France should send security forces to help the then President Ben Ali government quell the pro-democracy protests. It was later discovered that she had enjoyed favours from a member of Ben Ali’s inner circle.

In 2007, a state visit to France by Gaddafi had caused a massive outcry from human rights campaigners. And in a bid to pacify the campaigners, President Sarkozy had announced at a press conference that he had raised the issue of human rights with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The latter told the international media that he and the French president had not talked about human rights.

Madame Michelle Alliot Marie resigned at the weekend amid claims that President Sarkozy’s government reshuffle which came at the same time aimed at giving more heft to France’s foreign policy.


Meanwhile, further restrictions will soon be imposed on Libya, says EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Baroness Ashton. The restrictions, according to the official, will include “an embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression.”

Countries across the world have also began freezing the assets of the Gaddafi clan in an attempt to bring down the regime. According to Aljazeera, the British government has “barred the export of uncirculated Libyan banknotes from Britain without a licence, amid reports that there have been attempts to move around $1.5bn in uncirculated Libyan banknotes out of the UK”.

Saturday, a unanimous vote of 15 to 0 at the United Nations Security Council to authorise a travel ban and assets freeze on Gaddafi, a resolution circulated Saturday by Britain and France, was preceded by an emotional plea from Mohammed Shalgham, Libyan Ambassador to the UN, who asked that sanctions be adopted to “save” his country.

So far, the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, the European Union, among others, have taken steps to slap diplomatic sanctions and assets freeze on Muammar Gaddafi’s family and cronies. “He is now cut off from the rest of the international community” says Mr Hague.

Meanwhile, as the international community continues to cut support to Gaddafi, intense fighting has been reported in Misrata, 200 km east of the capital, Tripoli. The town is believed to be under the control of protesters who have successfully repelled pro-Gaddafi forces. Reports say that Gaddafi opponents and defected army units have captured almost all of the east of the country including most of Libya’s lucrative oil infrastructure with the Libyan leader holed up in Tripoli.

“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,” U.S. President Barack Obama told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone discussion on Sunday.

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