- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

GENEVA (AP) — The European Union slapped its own arms embargo, visa ban and other sanctions Monday on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, part of an escalating global effort to halt his bloody crackdown on critics in the North African nation.

In a series of fast-paced developments, France pledged to send two planes with humanitarian aid to Libya’s opposition stronghold of Benghazi while Germany mulled a two-month cutoff of oil payments to Col. Gadhafi’s regime. The moves came after days of increasing protest against the hundreds, and potentially thousands, of deaths caused by Col. Gadhafi’s military resistance against the popular uprising in his country.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the European measures, including a freeze on assets, aimed to reinforced the U.N. Security Council-mandated sanctions against Libya approved over the weekend.

She said the EU also was putting “an embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression” and urged coordinated action by nations to help people across North Africa and the Middle East.

A more complex set of negotiations, she added, was being held over the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.

Diplomats gathered in Geneva on Monday — including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ms. Ashton — to coordinate action against Col. Gadhafi’s regime. Mrs. Clinton was pressing European leaders to enact tough sanctions to force Col. Gadhafi to stop his violent attacks and step down after 42 years in power.

In Paris, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said planes were taking off for the eastern city of Benghazi with doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment.

“It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories,” he said on RTL radio.

France’s government is studying “all solutions to make it so that Colonel Gadhafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power,” Fillon added.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle proposed cutting off all oil and other payments to Libya for 60 days to make sure that the Gadhafi regime does not get more money to hire mercenaries to repress anti-government critics.

Mr. Westerwelle called Col. Gadhafi’s violent crackdown on protesters “a crime. We must do everything so this murder ends.” He spoke after meeting with Mrs. Clinton.

“We must do everything to ensure that no money is going into the hands of the Libyan dictator’s family, that they don’t have any opportunity to hire new foreign soldiers to repress their people with,” Mr. Westerwelle added.

The German action is significant because 85 percent of Libya’s oil goes to European customers. Last week, both Britain and Switzerland froze assets belonging to the Libyan leader and his family.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, said he personally has urged Col. Gadhafi to step down and set up a transitional government to prevent further violence. Mr. Blair told Monday’s edition of The Times of London that he made two telephone calls to the embattled dictator last week but that the message that he should resign was rebuffed. He described the Libyan leader as being in denial about his situation.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called on the world’s powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and compared Col. Gadhafi’s violent suppression of opposition forces to genocides in Rwanda, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and Sudan’s Darfur region.

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