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UN Security Council holds emergency meeting on Libya

Western nations press for "swift and clear" action

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday held emergency consultations on the Libyan crisis with Western nations pressing for "swift and clear" action.

Libyan diplomats who have broken with strongman leader Muammar Gaddafi and demanded the meeting have called for a U.N. no-fly zone over the country and humanitarian action.

But the talks led only to a decision by the 15-nation council to hold a formal meeting on the crisis later in the day. Diplomats said a statement could be released then.

"The scale of violence by the Libyan security forces against peaceful demonstrators is really shocking," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said.

"It has regional and international implications. That is why we think it is a case for the Security Council and the council should act with a swift and clear message," Wittig told reporters going into the meeting.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, the Libyan deputy ambassador who has called for Gaddafi to stand down and demanded Tuesday's meeting, said the council must take action "to protect the Libyan people."

He sent a letter demanding that the Security Council order a no-fly zone over Libya and for a humanitarian corridor to get supplies to civilians. But diplomats said no action has yet been discussed.

Libya's main ambassador, Mohamed Shalgham, turned up at the Security Council late in the meeting creating some doubts about who was really representing the country.

Shalgham, who described himself as a childhood friend of Gaddafi, said he did not support all the actions of his deputy but he said he had told government leaders that "violence must stop."

It was not immediately clear whether Dabbashi or Shalgham would represent Libya at the formal meeting.

It is the first time the council has discussed the turmoil sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

"This is clearly a different case from what we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia because of the scale of the violence and the use of mercenaries," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Even though China and Russia traditionally oppose interference in the internal affairs of a country, "there was a general recognition that it is now a very serious situation and the violence has reached a shocking level," said another diplomat who attended the meeting.

Diplomats from several Western nations said they would press at least for a UN statement that condemns the use of violence against Libyan civilians and calls for the protection of foreign nationals there.

Some human rights groups have said up to 400 people have been killed in the Libyan violence in which warplanes have carried out air strikes on demonstrators.

Rights groups have joined calls for the UN Security Council to take a tougher line on the unrest in North Africa.

ICC criminalized Gaddafi

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has criminalized Gaddafi, his son, and whoever works with them. ICC also said that it expects mass graves in Libya by the hands of Gaddafi men and hired mercenaries.

There were hiring ads in Ghana and Nigeria for mercenaries, with $2000 per day as their prize.

One ICC official told Alarabiya TV that it expects mass graves in Libya, with the current estimated toll of 3,000 killed and injured Libyans on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the U.N. chief stressed that "the aspirations and concerns of the people should be fully respected and heard by the authorities of the countries concerned."

He spoke to a small group of reporters in Los Angeles shortly after issuing a statement saying he was "outraged" over reports that Libyan security forces fired on demonstrators from war planes and helicopters.

"Such attacks against civilians, if confirmed, would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law and would be condemned by the secretary-general in the strongest terms," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Ban "once again calls for an immediate end to the violence," added the statement, which said he has been in close touch with key states over the crisis.

In his conversation with Gaddafi, Ban also called on the longest-serving Arab ruler to "immediately" halt violence in the North African country and launch a broad-based dialogue with the opposition.

Protesters meanwhile took control of several Libyan cities and a growing number of regime figures defected. International rights groups estimate the unrest has left up to 400 people dead.

Gaddafi, in his first comments since protests erupted last Tuesday in the east of the oil-rich nation, denied he had fled his country amid claims of a "massacre" in the capital Tripoli.

Ban stressed the need to "ensure the protection of the civilian population under any circumstances," Nesirky said.

"Unnecessary bloodshed"

The United States told Libya on Monday to stop shedding the blood of protesters seeking to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule and announced plans to evacuate some U.S. diplomats from the oil-exporting nation.

"Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a written statement in which she stressed Libya had a responsibility to protect its citizens' rights, including freedom of speech and assembly.

The son of Libyan leader Gaddafi said that air raids targeted ammunition depots and not populated areas in Tripoli and Benghanzi, state television said.

"There is no truth to information about a raid by the armed forces against Tripoli and Benghazi," Libyan television quoted Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as telling the official Jana news agency.

"The raid targeted ammunitions depots in areas remote from inhabited areas," Saif al-Islam said

The United States said earlier on Monday it was ordering nonessential U.S. diplomats as well as all embassy family members to leave Libya, a country with which it only recently restored diplomatic relations after years of estrangement.

The improvement in ties began in late 2003, when -- after the U.S.-led war that toppled former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein -- Gaddafi gave up Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs and settled claims stemming from the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and other alleged terrorist acts.

In a brief written statement, Clinton minced no words.

"The world is watching the situation in Libya with alarm," she said. "We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya."

"The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly, she added. "We are working urgently with friends and partners around the world to convey this message to the Libyan government."

In a travel warning issued to U.S. citizens earlier, the State Department advised Americans to defer all travel to Libya and told those in the country to limit their movements, especially after dark, and to prepare "to shelter in place."

"Spontaneous demonstrations, violence, and looting are possible throughout the next several days," it added.

Worldwide condemnations

NATO, the European Union, Britain, France, Italy, Australia and New Zealand all called for a halt to the violence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting neighboring Egypt, called the crackdown "appalling."

"The regime is using the most vicious forms of repression against people who want to see that country - which is one of the most closed and one of the most autocratic - make progress," he said.

Italy put all military air bases on maximum alert after the fighters landed, ANSA news agency reported, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he was "alarmed" by clashes in the former Italian colony.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on Tripoli to stop the deadly crackdown, saying in a statement: "I am shocked by the indiscriminate use of violence against peaceful protesters in Libya."

Libya's airspace over the capital Tripoli has not been closed, the Austrian Army announced late Monday after earlier reporting its closure.

The army has been able to evacuate 62 European nationals on a military plane from Tripoli to Malta, it said.

"One of our sources said that initially that it (airspace) was closed, but another later confirmed otherwise. Our plane was able to leave," defense ministry spokesman Michael Huber told AFP.