President Obama broke his silence Wednesday and condemned the crackdown in Libya by defiant leader Muammar Gaddafi. In his first public statement on the violence against anti-government protesters, the president said "the suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable," and the Libyan leader will be held accountable.
"Like all governments, the Libyan government has a responsibility to refrain from violence, to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need and to respect the rights of its people," Obama said. "It must be held accountable for its failure to meet those responsibilities and face the cost of continued violations of human rights."
Obama, giving the address from Grand Foyer of the White House, did not call for Gaddafi to step down, but he did announce that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would travel to Geneva Monday for a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council and to discuss what actions could be taken to stop the violence in Libya.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini estimates that more than 1,000 people have been killed by security forces and government-sanctioned mercenary squads in Libya since the protests began on Feb. 17.
Obama's statement came as he faced mounting criticism over his silence concerning Libya and what has appeared like a reluctance by the White House to give its full support to the protests that have been sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. This has been especially true when the protesters have called for democratic changes and political reforms in nations that are close allies of the United States, like Egypt and Bahrain.
"The concern over Obama's tepid response has been expressed across the political spectrum, and it has put the administration in the position of following its European allies, traditionally more comfortable speaking out against such abuses than taking direct action against them," reported the Washington Post.
Protests spread in the west
Protests against Gaddafi's autocratic rule spread to areas in western Libya long considered the leader's strong holds, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"Reports painted a grim picture of western Libya. Terrified residents of the capital, Tripoli, said pro-government militias rampaged through some residential areas, firing automatic weapons from pickup trucks and Land Cruisers," it reported.
It states that Libya's third largest city, Misurata, fell to protesters. The city about 120 miles from Tripoli was traditionally supportive of Gaddafi. A statement on the internet that claimed to be from lawyers and judges in Misurata said the city had liberated itself from Gaddafi's rule with the help of military officers.
Demonstrators also battled police in Sabratha, about 40 miles west of Tripoli, and Zuwarah, about 30 miles from the Tunisian border.
Opposition protesters earlier claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya's 1,000-mile Mediterranean coast.
Egyptians fleeing Libya told GlobalPost's Jon Jensen they feared growing chaos and lawlessness in Libya's eastern frontier.
“Everybody has a gun now, even little children. You don’t know who to trust anymore — the army, police and citizens are all wearing the same clothes,” said Ahmed Moustafa, an Egyptian returnee. “I’m just happy to be home on safe ground again.”
-- Hanna Ingber Win
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