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World's Message to Libyan Leader Gaddafi: Time to End Your Regime

by Ian Black, Middle East editor

Muammar Gaddafi is running out of options and friends as international action to pressure him into surrendering gathers momentum, with Russia and China joining the west in backing calls to prosecute him for war crimes.

Gaddafi became the first sitting head of state to be referred to the international criminal court by unanimous vote of the UN security council. (Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters) Britain said it was revoking the diplomatic immunity of the Libyan leader and his family, including his high-profile son Saif al-Islam, who has had close links with the UK. David Cameron echoed Barack Obama in calling on him to go. The PM said: "All of this sends a clear message to this regime: it is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go and to go now. There is no future for Libya that includes him."

Hillary Clinton said the US was reaching out to the Libyan opposition and was not negotiating with Gaddafi.

"We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and troops who remain loyal to him," the US secretary of state said. "How he manages that is up to him."

European Union governments will sign off on sanctions against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his government on Monday, including an arms embargo and travel bans, diplomats said.

The decision was expected to be made later in the week but has been brought forward to ensure the measures are enforced as soon as possible.

The gravity of the crisis was reflected in Saturday night's vote by the UN security council to impose travel and asset sanctions on Gaddafi and his entourage and a belated arms embargo on Libya – even if these moves are now largely symbolic. Gaddafi also became the first sitting head of state to be referred to the international criminal court by unanimous vote of the often-divided UN security council. British officials also said his exclusion from the UK was an unprecedented act.

Italy, which has had an intimate relationship with Libya as the former colonial power and a major investor, said its treaty of friendship and co-operation with the north African country was now suspended.

"We have reached, I believe, a point of no return," the foreign minster, Franco Frattini, told Sky Italia TV. The EU said it was preparing to implement the UN decisions across its 27 member states.

The flurry of statements and diplomatic activity reflected a sense in Washington, London and many capitals that it is less risky to act now that emergency evacuations have sharply reduced the number of foreign nationals stranded in Libya. But the UN did not discuss imposing a no-fly zone, as some had urged.

UK officials have been contacting senior Libyan figures to persuade them to abandon the regime so it collapses rather than mounts a desperate fight to the finish.

Diplomats also said it was too early to consider recognition of the Libyan opposition in the eastern city of Benghazi as a government. "We have here a country descending into civil war with atrocious scenes of killing of protesters and a government actually making war on its own people so of course, it is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go," the foreign secretary told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"That is the best hope for Libya and last night I signed a directive revoking his diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom but also the diplomatic immunity of his sons, his family, his household, so it's very clear where we stand on his status as a head of state," Hague added.

It is hoped the ICC referral will give Gaddafi pause for thought, and at least encourage restraint by his security forces as the confrontation with the opposition enters what looks like its final phase.

The UN secretary-general, Ban ki-Moon, told the security council: "I hope the message is heard, and heeded, by the regime in Libya. I hope it will also bring hope and relief to those still at risk.

"The sanctions are a necessary step to speed the transition to a new system of governance that will have the consent and participation of the people."

The 15-0 UN vote broke new ground. In 2005, Russia, the US and China abstained from a resolution – thus letting it pass – that referred the Darfur situation to the ICC and led ultimately to Bashir's indictment for genocide.

The breakthrough in New York was helped by strong support from the Arab League and the African Union and support from Libya's own UN mission, which has defected en masse to the rebel camp.

Hague will join Clinton in Geneva to get Libya removed from the UN's human rights council.

Italy's suddenly outspoken position reflected the rapidly evolving situation. Last week Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, drew fire from the opposition, saying that he did not want to "disturb" the Libyan leader in the middle of the revolt.

Libya supplies 25% of Italy's oil needs and 12% of its gas imports.

Its sovereign wealth fund has stakes in Italy's biggest bank UniCredit and other companies, and Italy's big oil and gas company ENI is the biggest operator in Libya.

Reports from Moscow said Russia stands to lose up to $4bn in sales due to the arms embargo.

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