EU fears for citizens in Libya
BRUSSELS — European governments faced mounting fears for their citizens in Libya on Monday as Tripoli warned of civil war, but cracks remained on how to deal with veteran leader Moamer Kadhafi.
After a deadly crackdown on revolutionary protesters, events took an increasingly violent turn with Libyan state television headquarters sacked and witnesses reporting public buildings on fire.
The morning after Kadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam warned that “rivers of blood will run through” the oil-rich north African country, Spain’s Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said the 27-state EU is envisaging evacuating its citizens from Libya, particularly from the eastern opposition stronghold of Benghazi.
“We are extremely concerned, we are coordinating the possible evacuation of EU citizens coming from Libya especially from Benghazi,” Jimenez said on arrival for a second day of talks among EU counterparts in Brussels.
Shortly afterwards, British energy giant BP said it was making its own preparations to evacuate some staff from Libya amid the escalating unrest.
The shift in emphasis followed the spread of unrest from the flashpoint second Libyan city of Benghazi, where an NGO claimed 60 deaths just on Sunday in repression blamed for hundreds of killings.
French European Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez was more cautious, saying that “for the moment, there are no direct threats” requiring the repatriation of some 750 French citizens in Libya.
However, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country has been at the forefront of the debate as the EU entry gate for thousands of illegal immigrants from north Africa, said the threat of an “Islamic Arab Emirate at the borders of Europe” in Libya was now a matter of “serious concern.”
He said there was “an urgent need” for “national reconciliation,” underlining he was “extremely concerned about the self-proclamation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Benghazi.
“This would be a really serious threat,” he said.
Frattini said ministers would “have to mobilise European funds,” saying the EU as a whole would end up “paying the price” if north African Arab economies collapsed.
Not all EU states, though, were on the same page going into talks initially focused on re-drawing aid conditions for the region.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Europeans should not “get involved too much” with the anti-regime movement in Libya.
“If Kadhafi falls, there will be bigger catastrophes in the world,” he said without elaborating. “If we get involved, we would only complicate the situation.”
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also said Saturday he would not “bother” his close friend Kadhafi.
While an autocratic regime in Bahrain has also responded to pro-democracy protests with deadly force, and pro-democracy demonstrators are pushing for historic change everywhere from Morocco to Yemen, the Libyan flashpoint remained the most pressing on ministers’ minds.
“We cannot accept that elite snipers shoot at people,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Europe’s criticism has already angered Tripoli, which warned that it would suspend cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration if the condemnations continue.
Accused of backing autocrats as a bulwark against Islamic extremists, the EU is now debating how to tie future economic assistance across the region to democratic reforms, human rights progress and good governance standards.
Ministers are looking at how best to leverage and direct new European Investment Bank and other aid funding, while looking at re-booting a long-stalled project for a Mediterranean Union drawing together northern and southern rims.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton was scheduled to fly to Egypt on Monday evening to meet the interim regime there following Hosni Mubarak’s exit earlier this month.