UN Security Council to meet, Libya hands out cash


The UN Security Council is to meet later today to discuss a draft proposal for sanctions against Libyan leaders, locked in a bloody battle for survival against a popular uprising. The Security Council meeting follows US efforts to drum up international backing for ways to stem the bloodshed in Libya, where Muammar Gadhafi’s forces have fought back against a rebellion in which French estimates say some 2,000 people may have died.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had called an emergency NATO council meeting for Friday afternoon to discuss the situation in Libya. He said he would also meet EU defence ministers to discuss helping those in need and evacuating foreigners from the country.

US President Barack Obama consulted the French, British and Italian leaders late yesterday on immediate steps against Gaddafi over his bloody crackdown on the revolt. Two pages on the social networking website Facebook called for mass demonstrations in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after Friday prayers.

Government forces are fighting rebels for cities near the capital. Gadhafi’s troops control Tripoli after cracking down on anti-government protests several days ago, and residents say they are staying indoors unless forced to search for supplies. The Facebook pages, one with more than 85,000 members, urged citizens to take advantage of a call by Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, to international media to visit Tripoli and see the situation for themselves.

Libyan state television said the government was raising wages, increasing food subsidies and ordering special allowances for all families, in its first practical attempt to enrol the support of citizens since the uprising began. Each family will receive 500 Libyan dinars to help cover increased food costs, and wages for some categories of public sector workers will increase by 150 percent, the television station said.

Oil prices rose more than a dollar to over $112 in Singapore today on fears of supply shortages, but a Saudi assurance that it would replace any shortfall in Libyan supplies meant prices were well below a Thursday peak of nearly $120. Washington said it was keeping all options open, including sanctions and military action, but coordinated action against Gadhafi, who has ruled the oil-rich desert nation of six million for 41 years, still seemed some way off.

Foreign governments focused on evacuating thousands of their citizens trapped by the unrest. Chinese official media said on Friday that Beijing had so far evacuated 12,000, or about one third, of its citizens from Libya. Opposition forces were already in control of major centres in the east, including the second city Benghazi. Reports of the third city Misrata, as well as Zuara, in the west also falling brought the tide of rebellion closer to Gadhafi’s power base — though information from western Libya remained patchy.

The nature of the new ruling orders in eastern cities is still unclear. There was little sign of radical Islamists among the lawyers, doctors, tribal elders and army officers who made up committees trying to bring order.

The UN Security Council was to receive a French-British draft text on Friday, but was not expected to vote on a resolution until the middle of next week, council envoys said. French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the draft would ask for an arms embargo, financial sanctions and a request to the International Criminal Court to indict Libyan leaders for crimes against humanity.

Germany is also preparing sanctions against Libyan leaders, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Friday. He told Deutschlandfunk radio he wanted travel bans on the family of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and for their funds overseas to be frozen, but he dismissed economic sanctions.

Gadhafi, appealing for calm overnight in a telephone call to state television, blamed the revolt on al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He also said the protesters were fuelled by milk and Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs. His opponents, including some in the capital Tripoli, said the latest public appearance by the 68-year-old showed he was out of touch. “Their ages are 17. They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe,” Gadhafi said of the rebels fighting his forces.

Two days earlier he vowed on television to crush the revolt and die a “martyr” in Libya, unlike the leaders in Egypt and Tunis ousted in past weeks by mass uprisings. Amid reports of Gadhafi and his sons deploying African mercenaries and their own clansmen, a former minister who quit Gadhafi’s cabinet this week said he believed Gaddafi would “do what Hitler did” and take his own life if cornered.

As growing numbers of Libyan officials, including cabinet ministers and ambassadors, reportedly deserted Gadhafi, the Swiss government said it was freezing assets of his family. Libya’s foreign ministry denied that the leader had any such funds and said it would sue Switzerland for saying so. London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said in an unsourced report that Britain may seize some $30 billion held in Britain.

Gadhafi’s grip on power could depend in part on the performance around Tripoli of an elite military unit led by one of his younger sons, US and European officials and secret diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks showed. Libya’s 32nd Brigade, led by Gadhafi’s son Khamees, is the most elite of three last-ditch “regime protection units” totalling about 10,000 men. They are better equipped and more loyal to Gaddafi than the rest of the military, which has seen heavy desertion, officials said.

A witness told Reuters the unit had attacked anti-government militias controlling the town of Misrata, 200 km east of Tripoli, killing several people, although residents said the government forces were beaten back by lightly armed local people.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch said crude production in Libya, which supplies nearly 2% of world oil output, was expected to shut down completely and could be lost for a long time. Saudi sources said Saudi Arabia was prepared to try to fill the gap in supplies. After decades of shunning Gadhafi, accusing him of supporting anti-Western militant groups around the world, the Western powers had in recent years embraced the flamboyant leader with a penchant for flowing robes and female bodyguards.

Gadhafi was particularly reviled after the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. A defecting minister said this week he had evidence Gaddafi did order the attack, in which 270 people were killed. His ending of some weapons programmes and cutting of overt ties with international militants, especially following the US overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003, led to cooperation with Western companies on developing oil fields.