Gaddafi ‘ delusional’
US, UK tighten screws as strongman falters
THE United States branded Muammar Gaddafi ‘‘ delusional’’ and moved naval and air forces into position around Libya, stiffening the international bid to drive the teetering strongman from power.
Washington also clamped a freeze on $ US30 billion ($ A29.5 billion) in Libyan assets – the largest such haul ever hooked by sanctions and openly goaded key Gaddafi aides to defect. It said ‘‘ exile’’ was an option to end his defiance.
President Barack Obama’s team sought to weaken Mr Gaddafi on multiple fronts, as international pressure on his fragile regime multiplied and opposition forces bore down on his Tripoli stronghold amid reports of new violence.
Meanwhile, Britain announced that it had foiled a plan by Libyan Gaddafi to move mint Libyan banknotes worth £ 900 million ($ A1.44 billion) out of Britain.
‘‘ The Chancellor of the Exchequer ( finance minister) intervened to block the departure of £ 900 million ‘ THEY LOVE ME’: American journalist Christiane Amanpour with Mr Gaddafi in notes destined for Libya,’’ British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
The British government announced it was freezing Libya’s British-held assets and the money was impounded before it could leave the country.
Libyan ambassador to the US, Ali Aujali, who defected, has been replaced by a pro-Gaddafi diplomat.
Mr Gaddafi has punched his own rhetorical counter-offensive, procl ai ming i n an i nterview with foreign outlets that his people loved him. ‘‘ They love me all. They would die to protect me,’’ he said in an interview with Western journalists in a Tripoli restaurant, laughing off suggestions that he might leave Libya as the White House aired the prospect of exile for him.
‘‘ It sounds just frankly delusional, when he can talk and laugh to an American and ( an) international journalist while he is slaughtering his own people,’’ US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said at the White House. ‘‘ It only underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality.’’
There have already been discussions in Washington about what to do with Gaddafi in exile.
Ms Rice said Washington was already contacting Libyan opposition groups, though was not yet ready to recognise any of them.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley added: ‘‘ He should get out of his tent and see what’s really happening in his country’’. Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the US diplomatic thrust in Geneva, meeting with foreign ministers at the UN Human Rights Council.
‘‘ The people of Libya have made themselves clear: it is time for Gaddafi to go – now, without further violence or delay,’’ she said, accusing him of unleashing ‘‘ mercenaries and thugs’’ on protesters.
The Pentagon was moving naval and air forces into position near Libya, as Western countries weigh possible military intervention, and officials discussed a possible ‘‘ no fly’’ zone to protect civilians.
US commanders could turn to the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier, currently in the Red Sea, and the amphibious ship the USS Kearsarge, bristling with a helicopter fleet and about 2000 marines.
The force could also launch humanitarian missions as fears grow of a refugee crisis sparked by Libyans fleeing government repression.