Washington – Citing human rights abuses against peaceful demonstrators in Libya, President Barack Obama late Friday ordered that all the assets of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, his children and their wives be frozen in the United States, or in branches of U.S. banks.
The order comes as Gadhafi is losing his grip on power against massive opposition in his oil-rich nation, which began on Feb. 15. Eyewitnesses reported murders and abductions by Gadhafi’s security forces and by hired mercenaries from other African nations.
“I . . . find that there is a serious risk that Libyan state assets will be misappropriated by Gadhafi, members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates if those assets are not protected, ” Obama said in the order.
And in a statement, Obama said: “By any measure, Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable. These sanctions therefore target the Qaddafi government, while protecting the assets that belong to the people of Libya.”
Included in the economic sanctions, which are designed thwart the movement of cash and other assets that might enrich the Gadhafi family, the president cited Gadhafi’s four children and their spouses and children. Gaddafi’s children, including one daughter and three sons, apparently draw personal incomes from Libya’s state-owned oil companies.
Obama also vowed to work with the international community and the United Nations to coordinate these and other actions.
“We will stand steadfastly with the Libyan people in their demand for universal rights, and a government that is responsive to their aspirations. Their human dignity cannot be denied,” he said.
Earlier Friday, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, in an ever more deadly battle for control of the country, as Gadhafi loyalists killed opponents by the dozens and grabbed hostages off the streets.
The United States shuttered its Embassy in Tripoli after evacuating its diplomats and most U.S. citizens in Libya, and announced it had begun imposing sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime.
In a dramatic scene at the United Nations, where officials said more than 1,000 may be dead in Libya, the country’s U.N. ambassador broke with Gadhafi and pleaded, “Please United Nations, save Libya.”
Gadhafi has told Libyans, “Either I rule over you or I kill you or I destroy you,” said the ambassador, Mohamed Shalgham, who was hugged by other diplomats, including his deputy, who was shaking and crying as the session concluded.
In Tripoli, government militiamen opened fire “in front of our face,” Zakariya Naas, 38, said in a telephone interview. He said he watched 15, maybe 20, bodies drop.
“The military, they are going in the small streets in between the houses and opened the fire, guns, and (they caught) some live people and took them,” Naas said. “I saw by my own eyes, more than seven young guys” taken hostage at gunpoint, he said.
In the absence of ambulance service, protesters were trying to commandeer people’s cars to get the injured to hospitals. But with crowds in the streets, roads closed and hospitals overwhelmed, they’re largely helpless. As evening fell, he said, “We have to jump from house to house because we cannot walk in the street now.”
There also were reports that Gadhafi loyalists were hiding in ambulances to catch protesters off guard.
With his grip over much of Libya crumbling, Gadhafi, his family and his remaining security forces have chosen to make a stand in Tripoli.
Gadhafi staged a new fist-pumping show of defiance Friday evening, appearing on state-run television at a rally of crowds of cheering supporters in Tripoli’s central Green Square.
But the Libyan leader faced rising international pressure on several fronts.
Little more than a half hour after a chartered jet took off from Tripoli carrying the last U.S. diplomats out of Libya, the White House announced it had begun imposing sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime.
A ferry carrying 300 people, roughly half U.S. citizens, arrived in Malta after an eight-hour voyage from Tripoli. But Joan Polaschik, the chief U.S. diplomat in Tripoli, told CNN from Istanbul, Turkey that about 90 Americans remain in Libya.
U.S. officials — who were careful not to criticize Gadhafi by name before the evacuation — signaled he should go. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that “it’s clear that Colonel Gadhafi has lost the confidence of his people” and “his legitimacy has been reduced to zero in the eyes of his people.”
Carney said the Treasury Department had begun tracking financial transactions by Libyan regime officials, and that the Pentagon was halting its limited engagement with the Libyan military.
At the U.N., France and Britain circulated a draft resolution that would refer the regime’s atrocities to the International Criminal Court; and institute an arms embargo. The U.S. isn’t a member of the criminal court, and U.S. and European officials said it’s uncertain whether Washington would support that provision.
The longtime Libyan leader remained defiant Friday.
“We are ready to triumph over the enemy,” Gadhafi said in a brief address from the ramparts of Red Fort, a medieval fortress overlooking Tripoli’s Green Square. “We will fight if they want.”
“At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire,” Gadhafi said. “I am in the middle of the people in the Green Square. . . . This is the people that loves Moammar Gadhafi. If the people of Libya and the Arabs and Africans don’t love Moammar Gadhafi, then Moammar Gadhafi does not deserve to live.”
He shook his fists in the air and blew kisses to the crowd of men and women, many waving portraits of him, and others jumping and shouting.
There was little doubt that the broadcast was intended to bolster Gadhafi’s supporters as new defections shrank his regime, the Middle East’s longest lasting. At one point, the camera focused on a clock above the square, which showed 6:50 p.m., to prove that the broadcast was live.
With few foreign journalists in Tripoli and phone lines frequently down, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of events in the Libyan capital. Much of the details of the chaos comes from telephone interviews with residents.
But outside Tripoli, there were growing indications that the tide was beginning to turn against Gadhafi, 68, who’s ruled Libya with an iron grip since 1969, but now faces a revolt that threatens to add him to the list of regional leaders ousted in a wave of pro-democracy protests.
In Zawiyah, an oil terminal west of Tripoli, protesters had been bracing Friday for renewed attacks by Gadhafi after his forces retreated Thursday. But by Friday evening, the feared retaliation hadn’t materialized, and a former diplomat-turned-protester, reached by phone, said that about 300 former Gadhafi forces went to the town square to announce they were defecting and began distributing weapons.
“We are less worried now,” said the former diplomat, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. “They have some good guns.”
But he said he’s deeply concerned about the violence in Tripoli, saying he’d heard reports that Gadhafi forces hiding in ambulances were shooting on unsuspecting crowds.
In another diplomatic defection, Libya’s envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Council renounced his links to Gadhafi’s government. Diplomats in the meeting hall in Geneva erupted in applause, Reuters reported.
The question of how to get humanitarian aid into Libya was becoming increasingly urgent.
A humanitarian crisis appeared to be growing at Libya’s Salloum border crossing with Egypt, where thousands of foreign laborers were streaming out of Libya.
People packed minivans with roofs piled high with luggage, air conditioners, mattresses, televisions and even stoves and refrigerators. There was little or no food available and no sanitary facilities, and Egyptian government workers struggled with massive piles of trash.
A tank sat on the Egyptian side, people camping underneath it. About 100 Filipinos and dozens of Africans, many of them from Somalia, sat in the confusion, saying they’d been stranded for several days and didn’t know where to go or to whom to turn.
Rows of buses sent by the Egyptian government, however, sat in long rows, their drivers shouting “free ride” and the names of the cities for which they were bound.
(Allam reported from Libya; Strobel and Landay from Washington; Ameera Butt, of the Merced Sun-Star, in Merced, Calif., Margaret Talev in Washington and McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi in Baghdad contributed to this article.)
Moammar Gadhafi has one daughter and three sons. Here are some details about them, compiled from news reports:
Ayesha — A lieutenant in the Libyan Army and part of a family-based business network that’s plugged in to Libya’s energy and infrastructure sectors. She was appointed a U.N. “Goodwill Ambassador” in 2009, but news reports Friday said she’d been terminated from that post.
Mutassim — A close adviser to his father and reported to be more resistant to reforms than his brother, Saif al Islam. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with him at the State Department in April 2009, and Mutassim was even given a photo op with Clinton. “We deeply value the relationship between the United States and Libya. We have many opportunities to deepen and broaden our cooperation,” Clinton said, with Mutassim standing beside her.
Khamis — Recruited French-speaking Sub-Saharan African mercenaries to shoot live rounds at pro-democracy protestors, reported Al Arabiya, citing sources in the city of Benghazi.
Saif al Islam — Western-educated and smartly dressed, has been the regime’s public face and, until recently, regarded as in favor of political and economic reforms. But in recent days, he has made television appearances denouncing the Libyan rebels and making clear that he and his family will fight to the death. He runs a charity called the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. He has a $16 million house in London, complete with suede-lined indoor cinema, not far from an area known as Billionaire’s Row. He’s also been a guest at Buckingham Palace.