Clinton says Gaddafi using mercenaries, US hopes to step up pressure on Gaddafi and his circle
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Monday of using "mercenaries and thugs" to suppress a popular uprising as world leaders discussed new steps to oust him.
"We have seen Colonel Gaddafi's security forces open fire on peaceful protesters. They have used heavy weapons on unarmed civilians. Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack demonstrators," Clinton said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
"Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Gaddafi to go - now, without further violence or delay."
Many of the world's foreign ministers, in Geneva for a high-level session of the Human Rights Council, were discussing next steps to pressure Gaddafi, whose violent bid to crush a two-week-old revolt against his 41-year rule has sparked international outrage.
US officials say United Nations and other sanctions on Gaddafi and his core supporters may "peel off" the Libyan strongman's remaining allies and seal his political fate.
"We need to deploy the tools that we have available to us right now to try to send a message not only to Gaddafi ... but to the people around Gaddafi, who are the ones we're really seeking to influence. Some of whom may in fact be rational. Some of whom may be interested in self preservation," a US official said on condition of anonymity.
World leaders have repeatedly denounced Gaddafi's use of force against civilians and urged him to quit, but have been slow to take concrete action, constrained until expatriate workers were evacuated from Libya.
The UN Security Council voted on Saturday for an arms embargo and other sanctions targeting Gaddafi and his inner circle, and referred the crackdown to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
US President Barack Obama has already announced US sanctions and on Saturday said it was time for Gaddafi to step down.
Britain has revoked Gaddafi's diplomatic immunity and several states have frozen family assets. The European Union on Monday approved a package of sanctions including an arms embargo and bans on travel to EU states.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said his government would ask the United Nations to approve a no-fly zone.
US officials have said all options are under consideration but appear concerned that a vote on a no-fly zone could be harder to secure at the Security Council, where veto-wielding members Russia and China may resist stronger action.
Asked if he had discussed a no-fly zone in his meeting with Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was adamant.
"Absolutely not. It was not mentioned by anyone," he told reporters.
But the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters after address the Human Rights Council that a no-fly zone was currently being discussed. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said European ministers had raised the issue of a no-fly zone with Clinton.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said that to work, a no-fly zone would need clear international support as well as the means to enforce it.
He also said Britain was "very sympathetic" to proposals to impose a 60-day ban on oil payments as a way to stop money flows to Gaddafi's government. "That proposal, if it can be worked out successfully, could be part of that," he told a news conference.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting Clinton that his government would propose a moratorium on financial transfers to Libya for 60 days and Frattini said EU states were discussing ways to stop money flows.
Clinton is seeking to coordinate the implementation of sanctions, particularly with EU countries who have a deeper economic relationship with Libya than the US does.
She said on Sunday the US was contacting Libyan rebels, who have seized large parts of the country and now face Gaddafi loyalist forces dug in Tripoli.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor in the Hague said he could open a full investigation on Libya in the coming days.