U.S. President Barack Obama consulted the French, British and Italian leaders late on Thursday on immediate steps against Gaddafi over his bloody rackdown on a popular uprising in which up to 2,000 people may have died, according to French estimates.
As oil prices leapt towards $120, stoking fears the fragile global economic recovery could be threatened, Washington, which once branded Gaddafi a “mad dog”, said it was keeping all options open, including sanctions and military action.
However, coordinated international action against Gaddafi, who has ruled the oil-rich desert nation of six million for 41 years, still seemed some way off, as foreign governments focused on evacuating thousands of their citizens trapped by the unrest.
With the Middle East still absorbing the aftershocks from the overthrow of veteran, Western-backed leaders in Tunisia and Egypt by people power, Western governments are also concerned not to be seen to be imposing neo-colonial solutions on Libya.
Disparate opposition forces were already in control of major centres in the east, including the second city Benghazi. Reports of the third city Misrata, as well as Zuara, in the west also falling brought the tide of rebellion closer to Gaddafi’s power base — though information from western Libya remained patchy.
Little opposition organisation exists in Libya after four decades of oppression, so the nature of the new ruling orders in eastern cities is still unclear. There was little sign of radical Islamists among the lawyers, doctors, tribal elders and army officers who made up committees trying to bring order.
But Gaddafi, appealing for calm on Thursday in a telephone call to state television, blamed the revolt on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He also said the protesters were fuelled by milk and Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs.
His opponents, including some in the capital Tripoli where many kept off the streets for fear of violence, said the latest public appearance by the 68-year-old showed he was out of touch.
“Their ages are 17. They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe,” Gaddafi said of the rebels fighting his forces.
His apparently conciliatory tone contrasted sharply with his raging defiance two days before when he vowed on television to crush the revolt and die a “martyr” in Libya, unlike the leaders in Egypt and Tunis ousted in past weeks by mass uprisings.
Amid reports of Gaddafi and his sons deploying African mercenaries and their own clansmen, all with little to lose if the old order is to collapse, a former minister who bolted Gaddafi’s cabinet this week said he believed Colonel Gaddafi would “do what Hitler did” and take his own life if cornered.
As growing numbers of Libyan officials, including cabinet ministers and ambassadors, reportedly deserted Gaddafi, the Swiss government said it was freezing assets of his family.
Libya’s foreign ministry denied that the leader had any such funds and said it would sue Switzerland for saying so. London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said in an unsourced report that Britain may seize some $30 billion held in Britain.
Diplomatic differences emerged even in a push by Western states to suspend Libya from the low-powered U.N. Human Rights Council, which met with strong resistance from Arab and some other Islamic states, as well as from Russia and Cuba. Reuters