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India begins evacuation from Libya; US slaps curbs

Two specially chartered Air India flights left for the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Saturday to begin the evacuation of its nationals even as the US slapped sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi and his family and temporarily shut down its embassy there. Yashwant Raj reports. Libya unrest: Timeline | Pictures

world Updated: Feb 27, 2011 03:03 IST
Yashwant Raj

As soon as M/V Maria Delores had sailed to a safe distance from Libya with its cargo of evacuees, the US slapped sanctions against the Gaddafi family and temporarily shut down its Tripoli embassy.

M/V Maria Delores spent hours anchored at the port waiting for the sea to calm down before heading out for Malta. Its passengers - a mix of Americans and third country citizens - were safe and out harm's way.

Soon after, the sanctions were announced by the White House, which also waited for a chartered plane carrying US embassy personnel and others to take off. With them out of the way, the government swung into action.

Assets belonging to the Gaddafi family - the strongman and his four children, all significant players in the government -- stand frozen in the US. There was no estimate available of the worth of the frozen assets.

"The Libyan government's continued violation of human rights, brutalization of its people, and outrageous threats have rightly drawn the strong and broad condemnation of the international community," president Barack Obama said.

"These sanctions therefore target the Gaddafi government, while protecting the assets that belong to the people of Libya," the president added, according to a White House statement.

The US also became the first country to shut down its diplomatic mission in Tripoli, attributing it to situation in the country.

"But we still have diplomatic ties with Libya,' said state department spokesman P J Crowley.

This essentially means all diplomatic activities stand suspended.

The US and Libya re-established diplomatic ties in 2003, decades after the US pulled out its diplomatic staff in December 1979 after a mob set fire to the mission. The same month the US declared Libya a state sponsor of terrorism.

When asked for the main reason for doing this, undersecretary of state Patrick Kennedy said, "I think the situation, the chaos in the streets, the gunfire at night, beginning in the last couple of days, even gunfire during the day."

The military option, though unlikely to be exercised, also remains on the table.

When asked if military action was an option for the US and the international community, Crowley said, "The military is a full participant in the policy development process that is going on. And we have not ruled out any option at this point."

For the present, the US said it was also suspending fledgling military ties.

"Sales of spare military parts were pending," said Carney, "They have been frozen. Bilateral military events that were in the planning phases have also been frozen."