Clinton: Gadhafi Using 'Mercenaries And Thugs'

A Libyan civilian holds anti-aircraft ammunition at an army barracks in Benghazi, where dozens of civilians registered for civil defense  training amid fears of air raids from Tripoli. i i

hide captionA Libyan civilian holds anti-aircraft ammunition at an army barracks in Benghazi, where dozens of civilians registered for civil defense training amid fears of air raids from Tripoli.

Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
A Libyan civilian holds anti-aircraft ammunition at an army barracks in Benghazi, where dozens of civilians registered for civil defense  training amid fears of air raids from Tripoli.

A Libyan civilian holds anti-aircraft ammunition at an army barracks in Benghazi, where dozens of civilians registered for civil defense training amid fears of air raids from Tripoli.

Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of using "mercenaries and thugs" against his own people Monday as rebels said they thwarted an attempted aerial bombing of an eastern city.

"Gadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency,'' Clinton told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. "Nothing is off the table as long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen on a TV screen while delivering a speech Monday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. i i

hide captionU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen on a TV screen while delivering a speech Monday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen on a TV screen while delivering a speech Monday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seen on a TV screen while delivering a speech Monday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

She called on Gadhafi, who has ruled the North African nation with an iron fist since 1969, to leave power "now, without further violence or delay."

Gadhafi told the BBC on Monday that he would not step down, saying, "All my people love me."

Echoing the angry and dismissive tone he has exhibited throughout the crisis, Gadhafi accused the West of abandoning Libya and said it had designs on recolonizing the country. He challenged Western leaders to produce evidence supporting claims that he was stashing ill-gotten gains in foreign banks, saying he would "put two fingers in their eyes.

Assets Frozen In U.S. And Europe

Clinton's remarks were some of the Obama administration's strongest to date since rebellion and violence broke out in Libya. After her speech, the Treasury Department said it was blocking $30 billion in Libyan assets under U.S. jurisdiction.

At the same time, the European Union tightened the screws of international pressure on Gadhafi by agreeing to sanctions including an arms embargo and asset freeze.

EU ministers meeting in Brussels decided to impose the asset freeze and a visa ban targeting Gadhafi and two dozen family and government associates. The sanctions also ban the sale of tear gas, riot-control gear and other equipment that might be used for repression by Gadhafi. Germany went further, proposing to cut off all oil and other payments to Libya for 60 days to make sure the regime does not get more money to hire mercenaries to repress anti-government critics.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, speaking in Geneva, said the European measures were intended to reinforce U.N. Security Council sanctions against Libya approved over the weekend.

Europe's action was significant because it has much more leverage over Libya than does the United States — 85 percent of Libyan oil goes to Europe, and Gadhafi and his family are thought to have significant assets in Britain, Switzerland and Italy. Switzerland and Britain have already hit Libya with a freeze on assets.

No-Fly Zone Under Discussion

Meanwhile, a rebel commander in the eastern city of Benghazi told NPR that his forces had repulsed an attempted aerial bombing there.

Col. Tarek Saad Hussein, one of numerous Libyan military officers to defect to the opposition, said the rebels used anti-aircraft fire to force the bombers to call off the strike. "We are expecting another attack with bigger numbers of aircraft," he said.

Hussein said government forces bombed a munitions storage in the town of Ajdabiya. There was no word on casualties. But state TV carried a statement by Libya's Defense Ministry denying any attempt to bomb the depot.

Hussein also said pro-Gadhafi forces had recaptured Ras Lanuf, a town west of Benghazi that is home to a major oil refinery complex. The reports could not be independently verified.

Fearing that Gadhafi might use aerial firepower to attack protesters, world powers were discussing the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya. Human-rights groups say hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people have died in nearly two weeks of unrest.

Clinton said at a Geneva news conference that "we are actively considering" a no-fly zone, which would require the approval of the 15-member U.N. Security Council.

While some officials raised doubts about how countries could enforce such an order, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced his country's support for moves to establish a no-fly zone at the Security Council.

Map of Libya

"Guernica is known throughout the world for the bombing of the civilian population," Rudd told The Associated Press, referring to the massacre during the Spanish Civil War. "We have seen evidence of that in Libya. Let us not simply stand idly by while similar atrocities are committed again."

British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Monday that he has not ruled out "use of military assets" against Libya and that the U.K. would help enforce a no-fly zone if necessary.

"We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people," Cameron said. "In that context, I have asked the Ministry of Defense and the chief of the defense staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone."

In Washington, U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) said over the weekend that Washington should recognize and arm a provisional government in rebel-held areas of eastern Libya and impose a no-fly zone over the area — enforced by U.S. warplanes — to stop attacks by the regime.

Key Cities Emerge In Battle For Libya

The West also moved to send its first concrete aid to eastern Libya, which is mostly under the control of anti-government forces.

France announced that it was sending two planes with humanitarian aid to the eastern port city of Benghazi in what Prime Minister Francois Fillion described as the beginning of an operation to push Gadhafi from power.

"It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories," Fillion said on RTL radio. He said Paris was studying "all solutions" — including military options — so that "Gadhafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power."

  • Libyan rebels watch smoke rising from an oil pipe just outside the town of Ras Lanuf, where many anti-regime fighters retreated after artillery and airstrikes from government troops Wednesday.
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    Libyan rebels watch smoke rising from an oil pipe just outside the town of Ras Lanuf, where many anti-regime fighters retreated after artillery and airstrikes from government troops Wednesday.
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  • Refugees who fled Libya bathe in the Choucha refugee camp, near the Tunisian border town of Ras Jdir on Tuesday. The Red Cross and the United Arab Emirates plan to build two new camps on Tunisia's border. An estimated 100,000 mainly foreign migrants have crossed from Libya into Tunisia since Feb. 20, Tunisian officials said.
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    Refugees who fled Libya bathe in the Choucha refugee camp, near the Tunisian border town of Ras Jdir on Tuesday. The Red Cross and the United Arab Emirates plan to build two new camps on Tunisia's border. An estimated 100,000 mainly foreign migrants have crossed from Libya into Tunisia since Feb. 20, Tunisian officials said.
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  • An injured rebel fighter is brought to a hospital in Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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    An injured rebel fighter is brought to a hospital in Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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  • Rebel fighters run for cover as an air force jet drops a bomb on the outskirts of the oil-rich town of Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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    Rebel fighters run for cover as an air force jet drops a bomb on the outskirts of the oil-rich town of Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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  • Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives at a hotel to give television interviews in Tripoli on Tuesday.
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    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives at a hotel to give television interviews in Tripoli on Tuesday.
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  • Volunteers work on anti-Gadhafi banners at the newly set-up media center in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Libyan activists provide technical support and documents to journalists.
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    Volunteers work on anti-Gadhafi banners at the newly set-up media center in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Libyan activists provide technical support and documents to journalists.
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  • A mourner kneels over the grave of a relative recently killed in a battle between rebel fighters and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for control over the town of Bin Jawad, Libya, on Monday.
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    A mourner kneels over the grave of a relative recently killed in a battle between rebel fighters and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for control over the town of Bin Jawad, Libya, on Monday.
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  • Rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an air force fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf, Libya.
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    Rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an air force fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf, Libya.
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  • A rebel fighter shouts from his anti-aircraft machine gun position as he sees a fighter jet flying over at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf on Sunday.
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    A rebel fighter shouts from his anti-aircraft machine gun position as he sees a fighter jet flying over at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf on Sunday.
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  • Thousands of pro-Gadahfi Libyans gather in Tripoli's Green Square on Sunday to celebrate victories over rebel forces.
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    Thousands of pro-Gadahfi Libyans gather in Tripoli's Green Square on Sunday to celebrate victories over rebel forces.
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  • Moroccan expatriates arrive Sunday in the northern Moroccan port of Tangiers on a boat from the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Libya. Some 4,000 expats were repatriated by Moroccan authorities.
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    Moroccan expatriates arrive Sunday in the northern Moroccan port of Tangiers on a boat from the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Libya. Some 4,000 expats were repatriated by Moroccan authorities.
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  • A rebel fighter stands at a checkpoint Saturday in Ras Lanuf, where up to 10 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes between opposition forces and Gadhafi loyalists.
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    A rebel fighter stands at a checkpoint Saturday in Ras Lanuf, where up to 10 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes between opposition forces and Gadhafi loyalists.
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  • Libyan rebels gather for prayer on March 4. Loyalist forces have launched a fresh air strike on opposition territory in the east, while pumped-up opposition fighters pushed forward the frontline against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
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    Libyan rebels gather for prayer on March 4. Loyalist forces have launched a fresh air strike on opposition territory in the east, while pumped-up opposition fighters pushed forward the frontline against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
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  • A Libyan rebel fighter fires his rifle in the air at Ajdabiya's west gate on Friday.
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    A Libyan rebel fighter fires his rifle in the air at Ajdabiya's west gate on Friday.
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  • Thousands of Bangladeshi refugees who fled Libya stand in a miles-long line as they walk to a refugee camp in Tunisia on Friday.
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    Thousands of Bangladeshi refugees who fled Libya stand in a miles-long line as they walk to a refugee camp in Tunisia on Friday.
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  • Trash fires burn at a border area in Tunisia on Thursday, where migrant workers from Libya are living in squalid conditions. Tunisia's situation is quickly turning into a humanitarian emergency as the country is overwhelmed with refugees.
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    Trash fires burn at a border area in Tunisia on Thursday, where migrant workers from Libya are living in squalid conditions. Tunisia's situation is quickly turning into a humanitarian emergency as the country is overwhelmed with refugees.
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  • President Obama said on Thursday that he has authorized the use of U.S. military aircraft to move Egyptian refugees fleeing Libya to Tunisia.
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    President Obama said on Thursday that he has authorized the use of U.S. military aircraft to move Egyptian refugees fleeing Libya to Tunisia.
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  • Libyan rebels in the northeastern city of Ajdabiya celebrate reports that the counterattacks led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have failed, on March 2.
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    Libyan rebels in the northeastern city of Ajdabiya celebrate reports that the counterattacks led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have failed, on March 2.
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  • Thousands in Libya wait to cross into Tunisia via the Ras Jedir border crossing on Wednesday. The UN refugees agency has made a plea to end the gridlock at the Tunisia border.
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    Thousands in Libya wait to cross into Tunisia via the Ras Jedir border crossing on Wednesday. The UN refugees agency has made a plea to end the gridlock at the Tunisia border.
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  • Gadhafi drives away in an electric golf cart after speaking in Tripoli on Wednesday after addressing supporters and the media.
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    Gadhafi drives away in an electric golf cart after speaking in Tripoli on Wednesday after addressing supporters and the media.
    Ben Curtis/AP
  • Defected Libyan soldiers stand guard outside an army base in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya, on Tuesday. Eastern cities are free from government control, but fighting continues around the capital Tripoli, controlled by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
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    Defected Libyan soldiers stand guard outside an army base in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya, on Tuesday. Eastern cities are free from government control, but fighting continues around the capital Tripoli, controlled by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
    Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP
  • Rebels celebrate Sunday in the streets of Benghazi, no longer under the control of Gadhafi's government.
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    Rebels celebrate Sunday in the streets of Benghazi, no longer under the control of Gadhafi's government.
    Hussein Malla/AP
  • A Libyan insurgent soldier displays heavy-caliber ammunition, allegedly intended to be used against civilians in Benghazi on Sunday.
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    A Libyan insurgent soldier displays heavy-caliber ammunition, allegedly intended to be used against civilians in Benghazi on Sunday.
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  • Crowds celebrate in Benghazi on Saturday, still demanding Gadhafi's removal from power.
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    Crowds celebrate in Benghazi on Saturday, still demanding Gadhafi's removal from power.
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  • Libyans stomp on a defaced billboard of Gadhafi during a demonstration against his regime in the city of Tobruk on Saturday.
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    Libyans stomp on a defaced billboard of Gadhafi during a demonstration against his regime in the city of Tobruk on Saturday.
    Kevin Frayer/AP
  • A Libyan border guard walks through an empty customs hall on the Libya-Egypt border on Thursday.
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    A Libyan border guard walks through an empty customs hall on the Libya-Egypt border on Thursday.
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On the ground in Libya, rebel forces have consolidated their hold on the east. In Benghazi, opposition leaders established a national council to manage day-to-day affairs — a step toward forming an alternative government to the existing regime.

Gadhafi remained dug in in the capital, Tripoli, backed by security forces and militias even as the opposition worked to shore up its hold on the key cities of Zawiya and Misurata.

In Zawiya, a mere 30 miles west of Tripoli, residents said they were anticipating a possible attack by pro-regime troops to try to retake the city. "Our people are waiting for them to come and, God willing, we will defeat them," a resident who only wanted to be quoted by his first name, Alaa, told AP.

Residents of Misurata, 125 miles east of Tripoli, reported that anti-government forces skirmished with troops loyal to Gadhafi overnight.

Amid the struggle for power, the town of Sirte — Gadhafi's hometown — has emerged as a key battleground. Sirte, located about halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi, remains in the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces, and rebel commanders say it has assumed strategic importance.

The city serves as "a link between the east, the west and the south. All roads go through Sirte," a local policeman named Juma'a told NPR by phone during a visit to Benghazi. He said it was defended by about 4,000 government troops and armed tribesmen loyal to Gadhafi.

"This town is very important to Gadhafi, because it's where he comes from. His tribe, his supporters, his relatives are all from there," Juma'a said. "The people of Sirte are afraid that if the regime falls there will be reprisals against them."

Hussein, the rebel commander in Benghazi, told NPR that he was calling on the people of Sirte to rise up against Gadhafi. He said his message is "you are either with us or against us."

Hussein said a government-controlled Sirte has become a major obstacle to the spread of the rebellion.

With reporting from NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Benghazi, Libya; Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Teri Schultz in Brussels. This story also contains material from The Associated Press.

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