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Libya Update

After that strange speech from Col. Moammar Gadhafi, where he closed by saying “I will die here as a martyr” and accused all protesters of being Islamists and deserving of the death sentence, I think the world should be pretty clear that a madman with fighter jets is in charge of a large country in Africa. But that control is slippping. Protesters have claimed control of about half the Mediterranean coastline, with Gadhafi in control of just parts of Tripoli and some of the center and south of the country. Warplanes and mercenaries are holding together those areas.

The Interior Minister Abdul Fatah Younis, often called Gadhafi’s #2, has resigned, joining several diplomats and members of the security forces who would not shoot on their own people. The Arab League has at least suspended Libya, and could expel them. While Gadhafi does have some international support – witness Fidel Castro raise the spectre of a US invasion – inside Libya, his power does seem to be crumbling, though one cannot be sure.

John Kerry, a possible future Secretary of State, and often the man who more unvarnished Administration viewpoints get laundered through, called Gadhafi’s actions beyond despicable and used some very strong language:

The Kadhafi government’s “use of deadly force against its own people should mean the end of the regime itself. It’s beyond despicable, and I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power,” the senior lawmaker said in a statement.

Kerry, who chairs the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Kadhafi was now “irredeemable” and stressed that top Libyan military commanders risked international war crimes charges for any “acquiescence in atrocities.”

The lawmaker said all international oil companies “should immediately cease operations in Libya until violence against civilians ceases” and urged President Barack Obama to re-impose US sanctions lifted under his predecessor, George W. Bush, when Tripoli agreed to dismantle its nuclear program.

Kerry concluded that the UN’s credibility was on the line. Hillary Clinton did not go quite that far in a press briefing today, saying that “The [UN] Security Council is meeting today to assess the situation and determine whether there are steps the international community can take … As we gain a greater understanding of what is happening, because communication has been very effectively shut down…. we will take appropriate steps in line with our policies, our values, our laws, but we are going to have to work in concert with the international community.”

What the US will decide, which will have a bearing on the international response, could be shaped by the powerful consulting and lobbying firms that work with the Libyan government, among them former head of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle.

The Guardian’s liveblog and Al Jazeera’s have the best roundup of coverage of the situation.

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David Dayen

David Dayen