EU prepares for worst after Gaddafi ‘genocide’ threats

European diplomats are meeting around the clock to minimise risks for their nationals after a speech by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi yesterday (22 February) was interpreted as "a code to start genocide".

TV stations showed footage of Gaddafi shouting and pounding his fists on the podium while delivering a speech on Tuesday. The location chosen was one of his Tripoli residences that was bombed by US forces in 1986 and left unrepaired.

Gaddafi vowed to hunt opponents of his regime, purging them "house by house" and "inch by inch". He vowed to "fight until his last drop of blood" and die as a martyr.

A Libyan diplomat who defected from the regime said that the speech of the embattled dictator Muammar Gaddafi was "a code to start genocide" against the Libyan people.

Speaking in New York, Libya's deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Gaddafi to step down, said he had received information that Gaddafi's collaborators have started "attacking people in all the cities in western Libya," AP reported. The diplomat added that Gaddafi was using foreign mercenaries to fight protesters.

"I think the genocide has started now in Libya. The Gaddafi statement was just code for his collaborators to start the genocide against the Libyan people," he said.

Dabbashi also criticised a non-binding statement by the UN Security Council, adopted yesterday, demanding an "immediate" end to the violence, saying that the position was "not strong enough".

Europeans trying to evacuate Libya

Many European nations have nationals in Libya whom they are trying to evacuate.

According to the Washington Post, the United States have been unable to get Libya's permission to evacuate American citizens from the country, prompting the administration to temper its response to the Libyan crackdown. The US Embassy in Tripoli announced that it had chartered a ferry to take US citizens to Malta on Wednesday.

The British government has reportedly ordered a warship, the HMS Cumberland, to help evacuate British citizens trapped in the country. Two civilian ferries from Turkey and one military ship were expected to arrive in the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday to evacuate about 3,000 Turkish citizens. The runway of Benghazi airport has been damaged by Libyan fighter jets faithful to the regime.

Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere was quoted as saying that "the hour is not right for flexing muscles".

In another development, two Libyan MIG fighter jets defected to Malta after their pilots refused to bomb Benghazi, the city where the strongest protests so far have taken place.

EU moving towards sanctions?

Meanwhile, a statement by EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton, made in Cairo yesterday, speaks of "all options, including restrictive measures".

However, most diplomats appear to agree that slapping sanctions on Gaddafi is not an issue to be decided right away.

A spokesman for the Maltese Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying that 25 countries, including his, were against imposing sanctions right away, while only two were in favour of sanctions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the strongest statement so far, threatening Libya with sanctions if the regime did not immediately stop the violence being carried out against anti-government protesters.

Merkel called Gaddafi's speech "very shocking" and said he had "effectively declared war on his own people". "If this use of force does not end, then Germany will determine to apply every form of pressure and influence on Libya – including the issue of discussing sanctions on Libya," Merkel was quoted as saying by DPA news agency.

According to government sources, Berlin was considering imposing a travel ban on Gaddafi's family, as well as freezing the regime's foreign assets.

Oil price surge

Meanwhile, oil prices have surged as fears mount that Africa's fourth largest exporter will shut down production. According to Time magazine, Gaddafi has ordered his security forces to sabotage the country's oil facilities.

The sabotage, according to a source close to the government, is meant to serve as a message from Gaddafi to Libya's rebellious tribes: "It's either me or chaos," Time wrote.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 migrants from Libya could flee the country if the regime collapses, 10 times the Albanian refugee phenomenon of the 1990s, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is quoted by Reuters as saying.

Muammar Gaddafi has ruled Libya since taking power in a military coup more than 40 years ago, on 1 September 1969. In theory, Gaddafi holds no official position in his 'government by the masses', or 'Jamahiriya'. But in practice he rules the country, as basic civil liberties have been sidelined and opposition is not tolerated. 

Libya endured economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation as a result of terrorist attacks in the 1980s, which were believed to have been commissioned by Tripoli. These included the Lockerbie bombing, the explosion of a French airliner above the Sahara Desert in 1989 and the bombing of a Berlin disco in 1986. 

In recent years oil-rich Libya has gradually been improving its relations with the West. Tripoli paid compensation to the Lockerbie victims and was able to repatriate the sentenced perpetrator of the terrorist attack "on compassionate grounds" as he is said to be suffering from prostate cancer. His release unleashed a storm of protests across the world.

  • 23 Feb.: Interior ministers from Italy, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta and Spain will meet in Rome to coordinate positions and make a recommendation to the European Commission.

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