European moves to isolate the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi gathered momentum on Thursday with France formally recognising the rebel government, Britain pressing for the imposition of a no-fly zone and Germany freezing assets worth “billions.”
France became the first country to recognise the Libyan opposition’s Interim Governing Council and confirm plans to exchange ambassadors. The official announcement came after President Nicolas Sarkozy met two envoys of the Council based in Benghazi.
On a day of brisk diplomatic activity in Europe, German economy minister Rainer Bruederle said his country has frozen the assets of the Libyan Central Bank and other state-run agencies. The total amount, he said, was “in the billions.”
“The brutal suppression of the Libyan freedom movement can now no longer be financed from funds that are in German banks,” Bruederle said.
Britain, meanwhile, led moves to prod cautious Western countries into enforcing a no-fly zone on Libya even as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke of the military alliance’s reservations.
“Let me stress the imposition of a no-fly zone would be quite a complicated undertaking and it would also require a new United Nations mandate,” Rasmussen said. “NATO is not looking to intervene in Libya… However, it is an evolving situation and I can’t imagine the international community and the UN would stand idly by if Gaddafi and his regime continue to attack their own people.”
In a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, British foreign secretary William Hague, supported by Germany, pressed the 24-nation EU to urge Gaddafi to step down.
Later in the day, defence ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 28 member-states discussed the no-fly zone proposal in preparation for a full-fledged summit of EU leaders on Friday.
British officials say that a no-fly zone can be enforced without UN approval if three conditions are met. First, there must be a “proper legal basis” (the right to protect civilians under fire); second, there should be a demonstrable need; and third, there should be strong regional backing (by the Arab League).