Libya protests: Obama condemns ‘outrageous’ crackdown

US President Barack Obama has denounced the violent crackdown by the Libyan authorities on peaceful protesters as “outrageous and unacceptable”.Mr Obama said the world had to speak with “one voice”, and that the US was drawing up a range of options for action in consultation with its allies.The Libyan government would be held accountable for its actions, he added.His comments came as Muammar Gaddafi battled to keep control of western Libya, including the capital, Tripoli.Opposition protesters – supported by many defecting government troops – have consolidated their control of the east of the country.Residents of Tripoli have said they are too frightened to venture out, because of fears that pro-government forces will shoot them on sight.Thousands of foreigners are meanwhile still trying to flee Libya through ports, airports, and the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.The overall death toll has been impossible to determine. Human Rights Watch says it has confirmed nearly 300 deaths, but the International Federation for Human Rights says at least 700 people have been killed.In his first public comments on unrest in Libya, Mr Obama did not criticise Col Gaddafi directly but did condemn strongly the use of violence by his supporters to suppress those demanding he step down.”The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and unacceptable,” he said from the White House. “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.”Mr Obama said he had ordered his administration team to prepare the “full range of options” for dealing with the crisis, including unspecified actions that the United States could take alone or with its allies.”In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” he added.US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to travel to Geneva on Monday, where foreign ministers will convene a session of the UN Human Rights Council.In Brussels, EU ambassadors said the bloc was ready to impose further measures against Libya if necessary.The BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington says Mr Obama sounded determined and outraged, but offered little in terms of concrete action to help end the violence – other than sending Mrs Clinton to Europe.

Our correspondent says sanctions and the freezing of assets are a possibility, but they are unlikely to help end the violence in the short term.And Mr Obama’s request for the international community to speak with one voice suggests there are divisions about how to deal with Col Gaddafi, she adds.Earlier, jubilant demonstrators took to the streets of the eastern cities of Benghazi and Tobruk waving flags, honking horns and setting off fireworks in what correspondents described as a giant party.”We have been suffering for 41 years,” Hamida Muftah, a resident of Benghazi, told Reuters. “Gaddafi has killed people… We are a very rich country, but most of the people are poorer than poor.”A number of military units in the east now say they have unified their command in support of the protesters, while a growing number of towns have set up informal opposition governments to fill the power vacuum.The government has not yet attempted to regain control of the east, except around the town Ajdabiya, where security forces and militia are reportedly clashing with protesters along the road to Col Gaddafi’s hometown of Surt.Witnesses said Tripoli was largely deserted, with many fearing pro-government forces would shoot them if they ventured out.

“Anti-government protesters have disappeared. The streets are quiet. There are many, many deaths,” one resident told BBC Arabic.Two naval gunships are reported to have been deployed along the coast.Col Gaddafi has urged his supporters to attack the “cockroaches” protesting against his rule, and “cleanse Libya house by house”.Despite the threats, opposition supporters said they were making plans for their first co-ordinated demonstration in the capital on Friday.Reports from Misurata – Libya’s third city, 210km (130 miles) from the capital – say security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several.Clashes were also reported in the western towns of Zawiya and Sabratha, where witnesses said troops and foreign mercenaries had been deployed after demonstrators burned government buildings – BBC