EU foreign ministers agree new sanctions against Libya

 

Germany defended its decision not to back Western-led air strikes against Muammar Gadafy, but joined other European Union countries today in tightening sanctions against the Libyan government.

The move came as a Libyan government spokesman said tonight that foreign attacks had killed many people by bombing ports and Sirte airport.

"You saw that place [Sirte airport]," Mussa Ibrahim told a news conference. "It's a civilian airport. It was bombarded and many people were killed. Harbours were also bombarded."

Berlin broke ranks with the United States, France and Britain last week, joining China, Russia, India and Brazil in abstaining on United Nations vote authorising the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians.

Arriving at an EU foreign ministers' meeting, Germany's Guido Westerwelle said Arab League criticism of the air strikes had vindicated Germany's reluctance to back the action.

"We calculated the risk. If we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League already criticises (it), I think we had good reasons," Mr Westerwelle told reporters.

Berlin had long said it did not believe a no-fly zone or air strikes would be successful in driving Col Gadafy out or protecting Libyan civilians.

Yesterday, the Arab League said it was concerned about the French- and British-led bombing of targets in Libya, saying it could lead to civilian casualties. But the league's secretary general, Amr Moussa, clarified today that he still respected the UN resolution authorising military action.

Mr Westerwelle stressed Germany strongly supported EU efforts to oust Col Gadafy through economic and financial sanctions, saying that should be the focus of efforts to end his 41-year-old rule.

The EU expanded sanctions against Libya today, adding 11 individuals and nine entities to its banned list, although the targets were not specified. Col Gadafy and 25 close associates are already on the list, as is the Libyan Investment Authority.

The National Oil Company is expected to be added in the coming days.

EU governments also agreed to freeze the assets of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and 18 associates.

Mr Westerwelle rejected suggestions that Germany's stance on Libya had effectively aligned the EU's leading economic power with Col Gadafy rather than with its Nato and European allies.

"This does not mean that we are neutral, it does not mean that we have any sympathy with Colonel Gadafy, but it means that we see the risks," he said.

With France and Britain leading the military campaign, EU ministers discussed how to bolster humanitarian aid to an estimated 300,000 people who have been uprooted in three months of unrest across Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

"We are looking at what more we can do in terms of economic sanctions, what more we can do for planning. The most obvious is humanitarian support," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Ms Ashton is expected to propose how EU governments can use naval forces to support humanitarian efforts such as evacuating refugees, allowing for talks on the subject at a summit of EU leaders on Thursday and Friday.

"This should be (done) in close coordination ... with the UN, Nato and others," foreign ministers said in a statement.

The EU has allocated €30 million for humanitarian aid for victims of unrest in North Africa, mainly refugees. France has also proposed creating humanitarian corridors to bring aid into Libya, especially around Benghazi, the rebel-held city in the east of the country.

The UN-approved no-fly zone over Libya is expanding and will soon cover a 1,000-km area as aircraft from additional coalition countries arrive in the region, the head of US Africa Command said today.

But attacks on Libya are likely to slow in the coming days, a US general said.

“My sense is that - that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks," General Carter Ham, who is leading US forces in the Libyan operation, told reporters in Washington.

He added, however, that "we possess the capability to bring overwhelming combat power to bear, as we have done in the initial stages of this, where it's been required".

British prime minister David Cameron tried to reassure a war-weary public that Britain's military involvement in Libya will not drag it into another Iraq-style conflict.

The British parliament is expected to give strong support, in a vote later tonight, to Mr Cameron's decision to send British planes and ships to help enforce the no-fly zone.

Members of parliament taking part in a six-hour debate overwhelmingly spoke in favour of the decision, although some voiced fear of getting dragged deeper into the Libyan conflict.

"This is different to Iraq. This is not going into a country, knocking over its government and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently," Mr Cameron said.

"This is about protecting people and giving the Libyan people a chance to shape their own destiny," he said.

Libyan state television reported that several sites in the capital Tripoli had been subject to new attacks by what it called the "crusader enemy" today.

Reuters reporters heard two big explosions followed by anti-aircraft fire in Tripoli this evening.

The United States has run into some criticism for the intensity of the firepower used on Libya, which included more than 110 Tomahawk missiles fired on Saturday to take out Libya's air defences and allow Western planes to patrol the skies.

Although the UN resolution authorised "all necessary measures" to protect civilians, Arab League chief Amr Moussa has questioned the methods used, while Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin compared the air campaign to "medieval crusades".

US president Barack Obama said the United States, which has been joined by Britain, France, Canada and Italy among others in the air campaign, planned to transfer the lead military role shortly. Britain and France led calls for the intervention.

"We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks," Mr Obama told a news conference during a visit to Chile.

Libyan rebels have welcomed the air strikes and at the frontline along the coast from Benghazi have cheered warplanes as they roar overhead. Rebel headquarters also say they are coordinating with the Western powers launching air strikes.

Reuters