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Obama Says All Options Are on Table for Libya Response

February 23, 2011 at 6:24 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: President Obama spoke out today on the situation in Libya. He strongly condemned the government of Moammar Gadhafi for its assault on protesters.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.

The United States also strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people. That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny.

These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country. And they cannot be denied through violence or suppression.

In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice and that that has been our focus.

Yesterday, a unanimous U.N. Security council sent a clear message that it condemns the violence in Libya, supports accountability for the perpetrators and stands with the Libyan people.

The same message, by the way, has been delivered by the European Union, the Arab League, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic conference and many individual nations.

I have also asked my administration to prepare the full range of options that we have to respond to this crisis. This includes those actions we may take and those we will coordinate with our allies and partners or those that we’ll carry out through multilateral institutions.

Like all governments, the Libyan government has a responsibility to refrain from violence, to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need and to respect the rights of its people. It must be held accountable for its failure to meet those responsibilities and face the cost of continued violations of human rights.

JIM LEHRER: In Libya, gunmen loyal to Gadhafi roamed Tripoli today in an effort to hold the capital. Witnesses said people barricaded neighborhoods to keep out the militia. And several more towns near Tripoli broke away from government control.

There were also new accounts of up to 1,000 people killed, accounts the Italian foreign minister said were credible.

We begin with a report from Alex Thomson of Independent Television News.

ALEX THOMSON: They burn his image. They burn anything green, the color he made his and Libya’s own. This man even claims the protesters have renamed Tripoli’s Green Square. They say they now call it Benghazi Square.

If Colonel Gadhafi thought last night’s marathon speech would dampen his people’s rising anger towards him, he seems to be wrong. More pictures have emerged today showing the strength of anti-Gadhafi feeling, this time in Libya’s western region.

We’re unable to independently verify any reports coming out of the western side of Libya, where the foreign media are still firmly banned. But it seems the coastal towns of Misurata and Al-Khums are no longer under Colonel Gadhafi’s control. Channel 4 News has been told there was heavy fighting in Zawia, east of Tripoli last night. Protesters say they were able to fend off an attack by Gadhafi’s men.

For the time being, the capital, Tripoli, remains the dictator’s last real bastion of power. Witnesses say apart from the sporadic crack of sniper fire, the capital streets were last night largely quiet, with most people staying indoors. And this seems to have continued into today, reports of Colonel Gadhafi shoring up his stronghold, with militiamen placed on every corner, breaking up groups of three or more people.

Libyan state TV continues to run footage of pro-Gadhafi rallies. Nobody knows when they were filmed or where, but the support doesn’t really seem to be there. Even a member of his inner circle, his number two in command, has defected to the side of the protesters, of the rebels.

GWEN IFILL: There were also signs Gadhafi may be trying to retake territory in eastern Libya, so far without success. Military sources said two air force pilots refused to bomb Benghazi. Instead, they ejected to safety and let their jet crash.

JIM LEHRER: Amid the chaos in Libya, foreign governments scrambled to get their citizens out. Hundreds of Americans boarded a chartered ferry with a capacity of 600 bound for Malta.

Separately, two Turkish naval ships took away about 3,000 Turkish citizens. It was part of the largest evacuation operation that Turkey has ever mounted. At the same time, thousands of Libyans streamed across the borders with Egypt in the east, Tunisia in the west.