The United Nations Security Council will meet on Saturday, February 26, to consider ordering sanctions against dictator Moammar Gadhafi, following an emotional plea by the Libyan ambassador to the UN.
Ambassador Mohammed Shalgham, a former childhood friend of Gadhafi, on Friday pleaded with the Council to act against the "atrocities," comparing Gadhafi to Khmer Rouge despot Pol Pot, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
"I tell my brother Gadhafi - leave the Libyans alone," he said. "Please, the United Nations, save Libya. Let there be no bloodshed, no killing of innocents. We want a decisive, rapid and courageous resolution from you."
"It is time for the Security Council to consider concrete action," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, warning that any delay would add to the death toll. "The hours and the days ahead will be decisive for Libyans and their country, with equally important implications for the wider region.
"In these circumstances, the loss of time means more loss of lives."
Ban's comments echoed those of the UN's top human rights official Navi Pillay, who had addressed a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier in the day.
"Let us be clear that today's shocking and brutal situation is the direct outcome of a callous disregard for the rights and freedom of Libyans that has marked the almost four-decade long grip on power by the current ruler," Pillay said.
She also spoke of alarming reports of mass killings, torture and arbitrary arrests. Thousands may have been killed or injured in the ongoing violence, she said.
EU, US agree on sanctions
US President Barak Obama wielded presidential power in an executive order on Friday to seize the assets of Gadhafi and named family members in the United States and globally within the auspices of US financial institutions, saying the "human dignity" of Libyans "cannot be denied."
Meanwhile, Germany's Foreign Ministry said EU members had also agreed on a raft of sanctions against the North African country.
According to officials in Berlin and an EU diplomat in Brussels, the measures were to include an arms embargo and a ban on all goods that could be used for repressive purposes. An assets freeze and a travel ban on Gadhafi and his family were also under consideration. A formal decision was to be taken early next week.
Gadhafi loyalists open fire on protesters
Witnesses reported Friday that security forces loyal to Gadhafi had opened fire on protesters in several areas just outside the capital Tripoli.
"The security forces fired indiscriminately on the demonstrators," said a resident, adding that there were several casualties on the streets.
In a speech broadcast via television to thousands of supporters in Tripoli's central Green Square on Friday, Gadhafi urged his followers to fight on.
"We will die here on the soil of Libya," he said. "We will defeat foreign attempts as we did the former Italian imperialism."
The speech followed a Thursday statement on state television, in which Gadhafi laid blame for the Libyan uprising on Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
Libyan sources said Thursday that Gadhafi was barricaded in the Bab al-Azizya compound in the capital, Tripoli, and was being protected by four military brigades. Reports have emerged that the leader was increasingly using foreign mercenaries to support his violent crackdown.
The International Federation for Human Rights, citing Libyan exile groups, estimated there to be around 6,000 foreign fighters, 3,000 of them in Tripoli. Most were said to be from other African states such as Mali, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
As a mass exodus of around 1.5 million European and other foreign nationals continued, both Italy and Turkey said they were drawing up plans for a military operation to get their nationals out of the country.
At a meeting of the National Security Council, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the armed forces to "be ready at any time for a spot operation."
Turkey has so far evacuated around 8,000 of its 25,000 nationals living in Libya.
Fleeing foreigners spoke of "hellish" scenes as they tried to escape the unfolding chaos.
"Libya is descending into hell," said Helena Sheehan, a British national who made it on a flight out to London's Gatwick Airport. "It's absolute chaos. There's just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out."
Authors: Rob Mudge, Shant Shahrigian, Martin Kuebler (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Matt Zuvela