The World from Berlin 'Europe Must Issue a Credible Threat to Libya'

What future awaits Libya? Several Western leaders hope it is one without dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But the unpredictable autocrat is still clinging to power in Tripoli even as he has lost control of several other cities. German commentators argue it may be time for a European intervention.


The end of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorship is nigh. That, at least, was the wish of French Defense Minister Alain Juppe on Thursday. "I hope wholeheartedly that Gadhafi is living his last moments as leader," Juppe said in an interview on French radio.

Britain, too, is counting the days until Gadhafi steps down. "It has to be said that the odds are stacking heavily against him and I think it will be important for all of us internationally over the coming days to increase the pressure on a regime which by all accounts is now committing serious offenses," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview with the BBC. He also issued a clear warning: "We will be looking for ways to hold to account people who are responsible for these things and they should bear that in mind before they order any more of them."

Still, Gadhafi on Thursday showed no signs of giving in to the mass protests which have gripped Libya for over a week. While large parts of north-eastern Libya appear to no longer be under government control, the regime is still trying to beat back demonstrators in cities closer to the capital Tripoli. According to an Associated Press report, forces loyal to Gadhafi fired anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns on a mosque in the town of Zawiya, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Tripoli, where demonstrators had holed up.

A witness told the AP said that casualties were heavy in the attack, but could not provide an exact number. "The youth have no means to defend themselves but hunting rifles and their determination, while the army has anti-aircraft missiles and automatic weapons," the witness said.

'The Whole World Is Watching'

Thursday also saw reports that the town of Zuara, 120 kilometers west of Tripoli, is now in the hands of anti-government militias. Egyptian workers fleeing Libya into neighboring Tunisia said that the police and military had vacated the town.

The Libyan government urged protesters on Thursday to surrender their weapons and offered a "lucrative monetary reward" to anyone who informs on those fighting against the government. The statement, issued by the Libyan People's Committee for General Security, reads: "The committee calls on citizens to cooperate and inform on those who led on the youth or supplied them with money, equipment or intoxicating substances and hallucinatory pills."

Several European governments are looking into options at their disposal to put an end to the ongoing violence in Libya. US President Barack Obama likewise said on Wednesday that his government was pursuing a "full range of options" to pressure Gadhafi into stopping the attacks on demonstrators. He dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday to Geneva for international talks on putting a stop to the government-backed violence. "This is not simply a concern of the United States," Obama said. "The whole world is watching."

German commentators argue on Thursday that it is time for Europe to take action.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The time for indecision has passed. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi is waging war against his own people. At the beginning of the week, the European Union demanded that he refrain from violence and engage in peaceful dialogue with the opposition. In light of the ongoing fighting in Libyan cities and the deluded appearances made by Gadhafi, it is time for Europe to stop playing the role of gentle admonisher. It can no longer be expected that the man will resign, now that he is seeking a martyr's death on the rubble of his country and the graves of his people. Even sanctions -- such as travel bans or the freezing of assets -- wouldn't be enough."

"Europe must do two things: First, there must be a clear signal against Gadhafi and against despotism. Though sanctions may be of little help, they send a strong signal. And they must be applied immediately. Secondly, Europe must issue a credible threat. The best thing would be a coalition with the Arab League, Egypt and the African Union -- a coalition which, outfitted with an United Nations mandate, could militarily re-establish peace in Libya.... Even just the preparation of an international mission could be enough to make it superfluous."

"There is one thing, however, that Europe should avoid no matter wait: waiting. A Libya that breaks apart and erupts in civil war could destabilize the entire region. Since the Balkan wars, the value of early intervention has been clear to Europe. Back then, Europe missed its opportunity. That error should not be repeated in North Africa."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The United Nations has so far only made appeals instead of passing a mandate. It would be difficult to find a Security Council majority for such a mandate -- the naysayers are well known: Russia and China. But what about the United States? The global power has enough problems on other fronts. And Europe? There has been no lack of soft power, warm words and hot air. But it hasn't been enough for effective crisis management. The hardware is lacking as well. At least the European Union gathered the courage to stop all weapons deliveries to Libya which had been, hard as it is to believe, reliably delivered until now.... But what about sanctions? Threats of military operations?"

"The danger is in delay. One doesn't have to think immediately about the war against Serbia -- or Iraq and Afghanistan. But given the situation in Libya, the delight at the uprising and the continued courage of the Libyan people is mixed with fear that hesitation could help plunge the country into civil war. Nothing has yet been decided. But what is happening on the far shore of the Mediterranean is the opportunity of a century. After Tunisia and Egypt, Libya too is deciding on the future of the Arab world. The Europeans know the feeling -- it was one they experienced at first hand 20 years ago. But they seem to have forgotten."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Libya's future is completely open. Will the dictator be able to cling to power and crush the opposition with brutal violence? Or, if Gadhafi indeed steps down, what comes after him? In the case of Libya, there are many more open questions than was the case in Egypt."

"As in Egypt, demonstrators in Libya are demanding the resignation of their dictator, free elections and an end to corruption. But in Libya, political parties are forbidden -- the only party-like organizations are the revolutionary committees, which are loyal to the regime."

"In Egypt under deposed President Hosni Mubarak, there were three opposition parties which were officially recognized and there was the Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned but unofficially tolerated. There were also several loose opposition groups as well as civil organizations ranging from environmental groups to women's rights groups. In Libya, this foundation of civil society is missing completely. Because Libya is one of the most oppressive countries in the world, the organized and fragmented opposition is almost exclusively to be found abroad."

-- Charles Hawley


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