EU condemns Gadafy crackdown but stops short of imposing new sanctions


EUROPE CALLED on Muammar Gadafy to respect the will of the Libyan people but stopped short of meeting French demands for immediate sanctions against his regime.

A senior European Union official said in Brussels that member states were discussing “a broad range” of penalties against the regime but were mindful of potential threats to the safety of foreign nationals who remained in Libya.

Amid reports of chaos as Mr Gadafy battles for control of Tripoli and western parts of the country, the official said up to 10,000 European citizens might still be in Libya.

Fears for the safety of foreign nationals add to concern that Italy, Malta and other Mediterranean states could be inundated with hundreds of thousands of refugees from the country.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini claimed that as many 300,000 Libyans might shortly try to leave the country, with the majority of them headed for Italy.

He said he would be calling for the creation of a special EU solidarity fund to deal with the influx.

“In Italy, we can deal with the first wave of what will be a very heavy flow of migrants but we will not be able to handle this for an extended period,” he said.

The EU official, declining to say when sanctions might be imposed or what they could involve, went on to say that such measures were “not usefully publicised” before being taken.

Diplomats said the European response was being hampered by the lack of clear information about conditions in the country. There was considerable uncertainty, said one source, as to whether Mr Gadafy’s televised speech on Tuesday was broadcast live or pre-recorded at an earlier date.

Although European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement last night saying “those responsible for the brutal aggression and violence against citizens will be held to account”, Mr Gadafy was not mentioned by name.

“We strongly condemn the violence and the use of force against civilians and deplore the repression against peaceful demonstrators which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians,” she said.

The official, speaking after a day-long meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels, said it was clear such remarks were directed at Mr Gadafy.

EU commissioner for humanitarian aid Kristalina Georgieva told Bulgarian newspaper Trud there were concerns in Europe that the international community was not dealing with a rational interlocutor in Mr Gadafy.

She also warned that medical supplies were running short in the country.

The cautious approach in Brussels to sanctions was at odds with the stance of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who threatened yesterday to suspend all economic ties the Gadafy regime.

“I ask the foreign minister to propose to our European partners the adoption of quick, concrete sanctions so that all those involved in the violence know that they will have to assume the consequences,” Mr Sarkozy said in a statement after yesterday’s cabinet meeting.

“I would like consideration to be given to the suspension of economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya until further notice,” he said.

As some of the western rhetoric on Tripoli’s violent suppression of protests grew increasingly hostile,German chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Berlin would “use all avenues of pressure and influence” if the crackdown did not stop and would “use all avenues of pressure and influence”.

British officials signalled that Middle East countries that failed to reform could be stripped of hundreds of millions of euro of EU aid.