Obama's Tough Message For Gadhafi: 'He Must Leave'

Celebrating victory in the battle for Brega, a Libyan rebel fighter takes aim at a burning vehicle that was used by troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. i i

Celebrating victory in the battle for Brega, a Libyan rebel fighter takes aim at a burning vehicle that was used by troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Hussein Malla/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Hussein Malla/AP
Celebrating victory in the battle for Brega, a Libyan rebel fighter takes aim at a burning vehicle that was used by troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Celebrating victory in the battle for Brega, a Libyan rebel fighter takes aim at a burning vehicle that was used by troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Hussein Malla/AP

President Obama issued his toughest warning yet to Libya's embattled regime on Thursday.

"The violence must stop," the President said . "Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave."

Map of Libya

Speaking at a Washington, D.C., news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama said he's approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help transport refugees fleeing Libya and hinted that using force in support of rebels is among "a whole range of options, military and non-military" that are being discussed.

"I don't want us hamstrung," he said. "I want us to be making our decisions based on what's going to be best for the Libyan people in consultation with the international community."

Rebels Bulking Up

The president's remarks come as Libyan rebels controlling the port of Brega bolstered their defenses around a strategic oil installation a day after rebuffing a major counteroffensive by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

The ragtag force of rebels, made up of mutinous army units and partisans, fanned out in pickup trucks armed with machine guns and rocket launchers to beef up positions around Brega. They said they need to regroup, restock, rearm and dig in defensively so that the city cannot be retaken.

New Libyan rebel recruits flashed the "V" for victory sign as they stood in formation Thursday at a training base in Benghazi. i i

New Libyan rebel recruits flashed the "V" for victory sign as they stood in formation Thursday at a training base in Benghazi. Hussein Malla/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Hussein Malla/AP
New Libyan rebel recruits flashed the "V" for victory sign as they stood in formation Thursday at a training base in Benghazi.

New Libyan rebel recruits flashed the "V" for victory sign as they stood in formation Thursday at a training base in Benghazi.

Hussein Malla/AP

"The rebels have managed to push out to another village just beyond Brega, and they're holding that line for now," NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported.

She said that while government warplanes launched a new airstrike on the town Thursday morning, there appeared to be no pro-Gadhafi forces left after an all-out push to retake the town Wednesday.

Brega is the site of the country's second-largest petroleum and natural gas facility and has been under opposition control since last week. Oil production in Libya — a key source of light, sweet crude for refining into diesel fuel — has dropped precipitously since the revolt began Feb. 15.

In the battle for Brega, the rebels captured at least three teenagers who said they were from Niger, bolstering opposition claims that Gadhafi was hiring foreign mercenaries to fight against them.

Garcia-Navarro said the captives, one of whom appeared to be as young as 13 or 14, were paraded in front of a crowd of people Thursday. "The crowd here was extremely angry when they saw them," she said. "One of them got slapped around."

The teens "said they had been put on planes and given weapons to fight the pro-democracy rebels. ... They said that they had been promised money and that everything would be fine," she said.

Gadhafi is "crazy," Faraz Lashrush, a member of Libya's national rugby team and now a rebel fighter, told NPR.

"He's using children, you know ... using young people, he's bringing people from Africa to kill his own people," he said.

In the nearby opposition-held town of Ajdabiya, rebel fighters girded against any further attempts by government forces to retake control of the area. They reinforced the western gate with a tank, four rocket launchers and four truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns after the city was targeted by government warplanes Wednesday.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, three of at least a dozen fighters killed Wednesday were buried. Hundreds of mourners chanted "Down with Gadhafi" as they laid the men in the ground.

"Our message to Gadhafi is we are coming and we will make Libya free," a man in the crowd, Sami Mosur, told The Associated Press. "He is a criminal. We are coming to him from Benghazi. We are coming from everywhere. He is a killer."

International Court Vows To Investigate

The fighting at Brega halted for now the regime's first counteroffensive on the opposition-held eastern half of the country. It also underlined the deadlock that Libya appears to have fallen into more than two weeks into its upheaval.

Gadhafi's forces seem unable to bring significant strength to dislodge rebels from the territory they hold. But the opposition does not have the capability to go on the offense against the Libyan leader's strongholds in the west, including Tripoli.

The relative lull Thursday came as the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court promised to investigate Gadhafi and his inner circle, including some of his sons, for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said there would be "no impunity in Libya."

Moreno-Ocampo said Gadhafi's forces are alleged to have attacked peaceful demonstrators in several towns and cities. He said the court was using the opportunity "to put them on notice: If forces under their command commit crimes, they could be criminally responsible."

Moreno-Ocampo also warned that leaders of the Libyan opposition, who have seized weapons from the country's military, could be investigated if allegations were raised against them.

"No one has the authority to attack and massacre civilians," he said.

'Tents As Far As The Eye Can See'

As Libya edged closer to a full-fledged civil war, tens of thousands of people continued to pour across the borders into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that more than 180,000 people have reached the two borders. More than 77,300 have crossed east into Egypt, most of them Egyptians. A similar number have fled west into Tunisia, she said, but 30,000 were stuck at the border.

  • 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.
    Marco Longari/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Ben Curtis/AP
  • 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.
    Nasser Nasser/AP
  • 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.
    Marco Longari/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Marco Longari/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Gianluigi Guercia/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Joel Saget/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Jim Watson/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Marco Longari/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Joel Saget/Getty Images
  • 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.
    Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
  • 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.
    John Moore/Getty Images
  • 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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At one refugee camp on the Tunisian border, as many as 15,000 people were being temporarily housed, NPR's David Greene reported.

"The tents spread out as far as the eye can see," Greene said. "It doesn't seem like a situation of desperation right now, but U.N. officials say it could easily become that if the numbers keep growing."

In Geneva, U.S. Ambassador Betty King said the United States is giving $12 million to help with evacuations, and the U.N. has pledged $5 million to kick-start emergency efforts to help people fleeing the violence.

Britain and France both began airlifts Wednesday to help Egyptians stranded on the Libyan-Tunisian border get back home. The British planes, departing from the Tunisian city of Djerba, will help evacuate up to 8,800 Egyptian migrants to Cairo, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Seeking to control the flow of people into Italy, Rome announced Thursday that it has decided to set up a refugee camp on the Tunisian border and may send in planes to airlift Egyptians to Cairo. Since the uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East began, thousands of migrants have arrived by boat in Italy, a major trade partner and one-time colonial master of Libya.

"We have a Plan B ready to handle an influx of migrants should they arrive," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said.

Doubts On No-Fly Zone Over Libya

Libyan opposition leaders have been pleading with foreign powers to launch air strikes against Gadhafi's forces as the U.S. and other nations debate whether to impose a no-fly zone over the country.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday that foreign military intervention in Libya would be counterproductive and called instead for additional sanctions.

Speaking with reporters at a meeting of European foreign ministers in Bratislava, Slovakia, Westerwelle said Germany's view is that military intervention "would be very counterproductive." He said it's crucial that any decision to impose a no-fly zone be discussed at the United Nations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to play down the idea of a no-fly zone Wednesday, saying it would involve more than just enforcing a quarantine of Libyan airspace.

"Let's just call a spade a spade: A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses," Gates said. He added that the operation would require more warplanes than are on a single U.S. aircraft carrier.

So far, the uprising in Libya has sent world oil prices spiking to the highest levels in more than two years, above $100 per barrel. Libyan crude production has dropped from 1.6 million barrels per day — nearly 2 percent of world consumption — to as few as 600,000 barrels per day.

With reporting from Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Brega, Libya; David Greene in Tunisia; Sylvia Poggioli in Rome; and Teri Schultz in Brussels, Belgium. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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