Financial institutions heap pressure on Gaddafi

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Financial institutions were hunting down billions of pounds of Muammar Gaddafi's UK-based resources as he came under international pressure to quit as Libyan leader.

David Cameron urged the Libyan dictator to "go now" as Britain imposed an asset freeze and a travel ban as part of United Nations-led sanctions against his regime.

And the Prime Minister praised the bravery of UK armed forces involved in the dramatic rescue of oil workers from remote desert locations.

One of the three RAF Hercules aircraft involved in airlifting 160 civilians to safety in Malta appears to have been hit by small arms fire, the Ministry of Defence said.

Mr Cameron issued his strongest challenge yet to Mr Gaddafi as rebel forces took control of a city just 30 miles from Tripoli and were braced for a fight with loyalist forces.

It came after the UN Security Council voted for measures aimed at punishing the regime and gave an unprecedented unanimous backing to refer it to the International Criminal Court.

Mr Gaddafi and his family were stripped of diplomatic immunity - preventing them from entering the UK - and banks and other bodies told by the Treasury to prevent them using UK-held funds and assets.

No immediate figure was put on the total value of the assets, including cash, shares, bonds and property, but some reports put it as high as £20 billion

An export ban was also placed on a "significant" consignment of Libyan banknotes - with a face value of around £900 million - amid fears it would be used to fund violence against protesters.

Mr Cameron 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."

Welcoming the second successful military swoop for stranded Britons and overseas colleagues in the eastern desert, Mr Cameron admitted the secret mission had been "risky".

"It is risky and it is difficult but I judged that it was the right thing to do," he said - adding that the rescue effort had "not been without its difficulties".

"We need to get those people home, we need to do so safely and we can do so helping many other nationalities at the same time," he said.

The Ministry of Defence said one of the C130 Hercules "appears to have suffered minor damage consistent with small arms fire" but that no-one had been injured.

"This incident shows how challenging the operating environment has been for our forces in assisting the evacuation efforts," a spokesman said.

As the evacuation effort moved into its final stages, another 50 UK nationals were among 200 people heading to the Mediterranean island on board HMS Cumberland after its latest foray to the port city of Benghazi.

A charter flight also landed at Gatwick Airport from Malta carrying 89 Britons - among them oil workers dramatically plucked by special forces in the first such mission. Another aircraft was also due to return.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said today that Colonel Gaddafi was "a liability" to Libya and its people.

"The view at the moment is that we should be putting all pressure on to Colonel Gaddafi to leave because he is a liability to his country and to his people," Dr Fox told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"We want to make it very clear he has got no friends and to isolate him."

Asked whether Britain wanted a no-fly zone over Libya, he said: "The whole point is to get him to go as quickly as possible."

Dr Fox said about 800 Britons had left Libya over recent days and there were no longer "large numbers" of UK nationals in the country.

Asked whether there would be further military missions, he said: "If we find that there are UK citizens who cannot get out any other way, that is always an option, but remember we are also being helped by - and helping - our international allies."

He added: "As far as we know, we don't have large numbers of British citizens who want to get out.

"However, there are British citizens still there - some who will be working in the security industry, some who will be working in the oil industry - who will want to be there for reasons of employment, but circumstances change and we will want to constantly monitor those."

Dr Fox rejected suggestions that the Libyan crisis had demonstrated weaknesses in the Government's recent Strategic Defence and Security Review, in which aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the fleet of Harrier jump jets were axed.

"There is a big red herring here. I've heard this argument over the past few days," the Defence Secretary said.

"There has been no need for us to have a carrier, there has been no need for us to use fast jets, but we have the ability to use them if required."

Prime Minister David Cameron is to make an oral statement to MPs at around 3.30pm today on the situation in Libya.

The Foreign Office today gave details of continuing efforts to help British nationals get out of Libya.

A message on the Foreign Office's travel advice website stated that a further military aircraft was arriving in Tripoli this morning to take British nationals to Malta.

A Russian ship and a German ferry which might be able to carry British citizens were due to leave the port of Ras Lanouf for Malta early today.

And the Foreign Office said: "Those having difficulty leaving Libya by air may consider, where it is safe to do so, leaving by road to the Tunisian border which is currently open.

"British Embassy staff are present on the Tunisian side of the border to assist British nationals arriving in Tunisia. We understand that the Libya/Egypt and Libya/Algeria land borders are also open.

"We have had reports of violent incidents along these routes so pursue with extreme caution. These routes should only be considered during daylight hours."

The Foreign Office said: "We believe that the vast majority of British nationals who want to leave have now left Libya, through commercial means, Government charters and military evacuations.

"Small residue numbers remain. Where we identify those who want to leave we will take measures available to assist them."

Anyone still in Libya and needing assistance was urged to call the 24-hour Foreign Office hotline on +44 (0)20 7008 0000 from the UK, or 021 340 3644/45 from Libya.

The Foreign Office's travel advice remains that all UK nationals without a pressing need to remain in Libya should leave if it is safe to do so.

Downing Street said it believed that "the vast majority" of British nationals who wanted to leave Libya had now done so.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said there was just a "handful" of people, who the UK authorities were aware of, who were still trying to get out.

"There are very small numbers who we are in contact with," he said.

"I think we are talking about a handful of people at the current time."