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Obama Stays Cautious as Libyan Massacre Kills 1,000

The Italian Foreign Minister said more than 1,000 people probably have been killed in Libya. Obama under GOP pressure to condemn Qaddafi.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/23/2011, 4:14 PM / Last Update: 2/23/2011, 5:59 PM

U.S. President Barack Obama is under heavy pressure from critics to condemn Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi as estmates of the death toll in his massacre of opponents pass the 1,000 mark.

Tens of thousands of foreigners are trying to flee the country by air, land and sea.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Wednesday told the parliament in Rome that the it “appears to be true” that more than 1,000 civilians have been slaughtered by Qaddafi’s armed forces and hired mercenaries, who are being paid up to $2,000 a day.

He also expressed concern about a rise in “Islamic radicalism” and “the rise of an Islamic emirate” in Eastern Libya, which has been taken over by rebels. His strong criticism of the violence came despite a treaty between Italy and Libya, under which Rome promised $5 billion over 20 years while Libya pledged to help stop illegal Muslim immigrants from flooding Europe. The United Nations has condemned the violence.

However, President Obama continues to show caution and has not called for Qaddafi to step down, contrary to his remarks when deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak deployed police against protesters, up to 300 of whom were killed.

Leading Democrats as well as Republican party leaders escalated criticism of Obama, noting that Ronald Reagan, when he was president, labeled Qaddafi a “mad dog.”

"While it's true that America has less influence in Tripoli than elsewhere in the region, we're not without options, particularly in partnership with the broader international community," Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John Kerry said in a statement.  

Former U.S. national security adviser Elliott Abrams urged the Obama administration to freeze Libyan bank accounts and work to suspend Libya from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, but President Obama has not responded to the suggestions.

Abrams said of the Obama administration, "I cannot see that we have done anything.” One of the president’s concerns for reacting too strongly is endangering the fate of America citizens trapped in Libya, but the massacre of innocent civilians has increasingly left him open for criticism.

The United States has chartered a ferry to evacuate some of the estimated 600 Americans living or working in Libya, in addition to 35 embassy personnel.

President Shimon Peres, visiting Spain, said that Libyans "will not forgive" Qaddafi for the massacre of civilians.

"The fact that he used arms and brutally killed hundreds of people, people will not forgive him because the right to demonstrate is a human right," he said at a conference in Madrid. "He has been the most brutal person in response to the [recent] demonstrations. Qaddafi makes a joke out of all of us. People take him in a humoristic way, but it is not a laughing matter, it is serious."