Clinton: US ready to aid to Libyan opposition

Libya protests
Residents stand on a tank holding a pre-Gadhafi era national flag inside a security forces compound in Benghazi, Libya on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi on Monday, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (AP Photo/Alaguri)

By BRADLEY KLAPPER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration stands ready to offer
"any type of assistance" to Libyans seeking to oust Moammar
Gadhafi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday, adding a
warning to other African nations not to let mercenaries go to the
aid of the longtime dictator.

Clinton made no mention of any U.S. military assistance in her
remarks to reporters before flying to Geneva for talks with
diplomats from Russia, the European Union and other powers eager to
present a united anti-Gadhafi front.

Shortly before she left, two senators urged the administration
to help arm a provisional government in Libya, where Gadhafi is in
the midst of the desperate and increasingly violent bid to retain
power.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut
independent, also called for the United States and its allies to
enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the military from again
firing on civilian protesters from the air.

The White House had no immediate comment on their
recommendations.

Clinton spoke to reporters one day after President Barack Obama
branded Gadhafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power
immediately. "We want him to leave," Clinton said. "We want him
to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and forces loyal to
him. How he manages that is up to him."

The U.N. Security Council voted last Saturday to impose new
penalties against the Gadhafi government, in power since 1969 in
the oil-rich nation along Africa's Mediterranean Coast.

"We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gadhafi. ...
But we've been reaching out to many different Libyans who are
attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves
westward there as well," she said. "I think it's way too soon to
tell how this is going to play out, but we're going to be ready and
prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have
from the United States."

Efforts are under way to form a provisional government in the
eastern part of the country where the rebellion began at midmonth.

The U.S., she said, is threatening more measures against
Gadhafi's government, but did not say what they were or when they
might be announced.

Addressing the rulers of unnamed neighboring countries, she
said, "You must stop mercenaries, you must stop those may be going
to Libya either at the behest or opportunistically to engage in
violence or other criminal acts. And we will be working closely
with those neighboring countries to ensure that they do so.

The African fighters that Gadhafi is allegedly using against
protesters come from several nations.

Clinton's remarks did not go as far as those of McCain or
Lieberman.

"Libyan pilots aren't going to fly if there is a no-fly zone
and we could get air assets there to ensure it," McCain said. But
he added, "I'm not ready to use ground forces or further
intervention than that."

He said the U.S. should "recognize some provisional government
that they are trying to set already up in the eastern part of
Libya, help them with material assistance, make sure that every one
of the mercenaries know that any acts they commit they will find
themselves in front a war crimes tribunal. Get tough."

Lieberman spoke in similar terms, urging "tangible support, (a)
no-fly zone, recognition of the revolutionary government, the
citizens government and support for them with both humanitarian
assistance and I would provide them with arms."

He likened the situation in Libya to the events in the Balkans
in the 1990s when he said the U.S. "intervened to stop a genocide
against Bosnians. And the first we did was to provide them the arms
to defend themselves. That's what I think we ought to do in
Libya."

McCain and Lieberman spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" from
Egypt, where a largely peaceful popular uprising recently toppled
President Hosni Mubarak from power after a reign of nearly three
decades.

It was one of numerous rebellions across Northern Africa and the
Middle East in recent months, all of them far less violent than the
events in Libya, where Gadhafi has used his military and foreign
mercenaries to try and crush a revolt and has threatened to begin
arming Libyans who support his rule.

The rebellion began Feb. 15 in Benghazi, where a member of the
city council said on Sunday that an ex-justice minister was
appointed to lead a provisional government for cities under rebel
control.

McCain and Lieberman also said Obama was slow to react to
Gadhafi's brutal response to the protests. The administration has
said the president did not want to risk any attack on Americans who
had been trying to leave the country, and waited until a ferry
loaded with evacuees reached Malta after spending two days in the
harbor at Tripoli, the capital, because of bad weather.

"The British prime minister and the French president and others
were not hesitant and they have citizens in that country," said
McCain, who also appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Lieberman said he understood why the administration hesitated,
but added, "I wish we had spoken out much more clearly and early
against the Gadhafi regime."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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