France, Germany threaten Libya with EU sanctions
Europe considers suspending economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya following brutal repression of protests. US may freeze assets belonging to Libyan government. Opposition says has taken over city of Misrata. Two pilots let warplane crash in desert to avoid bombing opposition-held city
France and Germany threatened to hit Libya with EU sanctions for Muammar Gaddafi's fierce crackdown on protesters, while the European Union said the violence in Libya could constitute "crimes against humanity" and urged an independent probe into it.
"The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday, 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."
The United States will also consider possibly freezing assets belonging to the Libyan government and Muammar Gaddafi as it weighs its response to Libya's political crisis but no decision has been taken yet, the US State Department said on Wednesday.
"Is it in the toolbox? Yes," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said when asked if possible asset freezes were under consideration. Crowley stressed any future steps, including possible sanctions or asset freezes, would be coordinated with the international community.
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 Gaddafi, who has vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood."
EU ambassadors were meeting in Brussels to discuss how to proceed. "Tough line to be expected. Good!" wrote Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb on Twitter.
The European Union president, Herman Van Rompuy, said Libya has committed "horrible crimes that are unacceptable and must not remain without consequences."
Pilots refuse bombing city
The opposition said it had taken over Misrata, which would be the largest city in the western half in the country to fall into its hands. Clashes broke out over the past two days in the town of Sabratha, west of the capital, where the army and militiamen were trying to put down protesters who overwhelmed security headquarters and government buildings, a news website close to the government reported.
Two air force pilots jumped from parachutes from their Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jet and let it crash, rather than carry out orders to bomb opposition-held Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, the website Quryna reported, citing an unidentified officer in the air force control room.
One of the pilots - identified by the report as Ali Omar Gaddafi - was from Gaddafi's tribe, the Gadhadhfa, said Farag al-Maghrabi, a local resident who saw the pilots and the wreckage of the jet, which crashed in a deserted area outside the key oil port of Breqa.
Meanwhile, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said that "a political leader who has decided to bomb his own citizens has lost all legitimacy to continue leading his country."
The comments came after the UN Security Council on Tuesday demanded the violence in Libya stop immediately. Peru suspended diplomatic relations with Libya and was asking the UN Security Council to establish a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace "to prevent the use of that country's warplanes against (its) population."
In a sign of Gaddafi's loosening grip on power, some Libyan diplomats abroad have distanced themselves from him. The embassies in Vienna, in Prague and in Bratislava, Slovakia, all condemned the violence. "Long live free Libya!" said a statement from the Libyan embassy in the Czech capital.
UN pushes for probe
Ahead of Friday's emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council on Libya, the EU pushed for an independent UN-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.
Sarkozy also wants to examine the possibility of suspending economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya, a presidential statement said. Sarkozy's proposal was a sharp turnaround from 2007, when he hosted Gaddafi for a pomp-filled visit to Paris, and the two countries agreed on deals for arms and nuclear reactors worth billions of euros (dollars) - many of which never materialized.
Germany's foreign minister said sanctions would be "inevitable" if the Libyan regime continues to put down protests so violently.
"There is a great deal of agreement with many partners in the European Union here," Guido Westerwelle said. "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.
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 Gaddafi tightened their grip on the capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere.
Reuters contributed to this report
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