World leaders condemned Mummar Gaddafi’s bloody crackdown on a revolt that has split Libya, but took little action to halt the bloodshed from the latest upheaval reshaping the Arab world.
U.S. President Barack Obama made his first public comments, condemning as “outrageous” and “unacceptable” attacks on protesters that have killed hundreds in 10 days and helped drive oil prices to levels that threaten global economic recovery.
Yet, there seemed little cohesion and urgency in a global response, even as Washington and Brussels spoke of possible sanctions against a man whose 41 years in power have been marked by idiosyncratic defiance of the West.
“It is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” Obama said. “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous.”
The oil exports which Gaddafi used to help end his isolation in the past decade have given him means to resist the fate of his immediate neighbors, the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, who were brought down by popular unrest in the past few weeks.
As many as 1,000 people may have been killed in Libya, the Italian foreign minister said. Unconfirmed reports speak of troops and African mercenaries firing on demonstrators in the desert nation pumping nearly two percent of world oil output.
Gaddafi’s defiance has been backed by deeds, with the deployment of aircraft on bombing runs.
Yet eastern areas where much of the oil is concentrated, have slipped from his control and with security forces defecting to join the protesters, it was unclear just how long Gaddafi could hang onto power.
In cities like Benghazi and Tobruk, troops and police have either withdrawn or have joined with diffuse and disparate opposition groups to start providing some order and services.
That wave may have reached as far west as Misrata, a city some 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli where a statement which purported to be from lawyers and judges said “honest” military officers had helped remove agents of the “oppressive regime.”
In Tripoli, which remains largely closed to foreign media, locals said streets were calm after days of sporadic violence but fear gripped people’s households.
“I haven’t heard gun shots, unlike in the last few days,” said one resident living close to Green Square in the city center which is a focus for gatherings.
Marwan Mohammed, a Tunisian crossing the border home after leaving Tripoli, said: “Lots of people are afraid to leave their homes in Tripoli and pro-Gaddafi gunmen are roaming around threatening any people who gather in groups.”
Oil wealth has made Libya an important investor in Western economies, as well as the sponsor of a host of projects in Africa and elsewhere, winning Gaddafi potential allies in forums like the United Nations.
Differences among world powers over how to proceed, some driven by concern not to jeopardize the safety of foreigners caught up in the trouble, appear to limit prospects for immediate international action.
The Security Council agreed a statement on Tuesday calling for an end to violence. But diplomats said a formal resolution requiring U.N. action was not immediately likely.
France and Germany have pushed EU states to consider sanctions and have won agreement to look into the matter. Some governments, including Italy, warn of economic problems if oil and gas supplies are disrupted.