Impatience was growing last night over the lack of international consensus on how to stop the bloody crackdown by Muammar Gaddafi.
Action at the United Nations contrasted with the swift mobilisation of Western governments to remove nationals from Libya. David Cameron, on a visit to Qatar, called on the UN Security Council to pass a formal resolution censuring Libya, but British diplomats in New York said they had received no instructions to begin such an effort.
Lord Owen, a former foreign secretary, said that Colonel Gaddafi was in a corner and it was time to act. "So far we have had the usual diplomatic caution and waffle," he said in London. "At any moment this man could order an air force officer to bomb a crowd of protesters. It is vital we act now to prevent this before it is too late." Proposals ranged from reimposing economic and trade sanctions on Libya to establishing a no-fly zone over the country to prevent air strikes against protesters or cities such as Benghazi that have fallen out of Colonel Gaddafi's control.
The US President, Barack Obama, said: "The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable." While Mr Obama did not say what actions Washington might take against Libya, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said earlier: "We will look at all the possible options to try to bring an end to the violence."
Many US officials think Europe should take the initiative because of its colonial history with Libya, as well as its proximity. And Washington wants to complete the evacuation first.
David Mack, a former US diplomat who served in Libya, told Reuters: "It was unquestionably necessary to assure the safety of Americans before taking the kind of strong rhetorical position that I expect you are goingto hear in the coming days."
Pressure on the White House and on the Security Council, which has so far done nothing more than issue a statement condemning the violence, is growing on Capitol Hill.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "United Nations leadership is on the line. Libya's mission to the UN bravely condemned their own government. Now UN action is critical."
The US and Europe have led efforts to gather signatures for a resolution of condemnation at a special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council to be held tomorrow in Geneva, but they have met resistance from a coalition of non-Western and non-aligned states led by China and Russia.
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