GENEVA – The European Union slapped its own arms embargo, visa ban and other sanctions Monday on Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi's regime, part of an escalating global effort to halt his bloody crackdown on critics in the North African nation.
In a series of fast-paced developments, France pledged to send two planes with humanitarian aid to Libya's opposition stronghold of Benghazi while Germany mulled a two-month cutoff of oil payments to Qaddafi's regime. The moves came after days of increasing protest against the hundreds, and potentially thousands, of deaths caused by Qaddafi's military resistance against the popular uprising in his country.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the European measures, including a freeze on assets, aimed to reinforced the U.N. Security Council-mandated sanctions against Libya approved over the weekend.
She said the EU also was putting "an embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression" and urged coordinated action by nations to help people across North Africa and the Middle East.
A more complex set of negotiations, she added, were being held over the possibility of creating a no-fly zone over Libya.
Diplomats gathered in Geneva on Monday -- including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ashton, to coordinate action against
Qaddafi's regime. Clinton was pressing European leaders to enact tough sanctions to force Qaddafi to stop his violent attacks and step down after 42 years in power.
In Paris, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said planes were taking off for the eastern city of Benghazi with doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment.
"It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories," he said on RTL radio.
France's government is studying "all solutions to make it so that Colonel Qaddafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power," Fillon added.
Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, proposed cutting off all oil and other payments to Libya for 60 days to make sure that Qaddafi's regime does not get more money to hire mercenaries to repress anti-government critics.
Westerwelle called Qaddafi's violent crackdown on protesters "a crime. We must do everything so this murder ends." He spoke after meeting with Clinton.
"We must do everything to ensure that no money is going into the hands of the Libyan dictator's family, that they don't have any opportunity to hire new foreign soldiers to repress their people with," Westerwelle added.
The German action is significant because 85 percent of Libya's oil goes to European customers. Last week, both Britain and Switzerland froze assets belonging to the Libyan leader and his family.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, said he has personally urged Qaddafi to step down and set up a transitional government to prevent further violence. Blair told Monday's edition of The Times newspaper that he made two telephone calls to the embattled dictator last week, but that the message that he should resign was rebuffed. He described the Libyan leader as being in denial about his situation.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called on the world's powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and compared Qaddafi's violent suppression of opposition forces to genocides in Rwanda, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and Sudan's Darfur region.
"For the sake of humanity, go now," Rudd advised Qaddafi in a speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He later told The Associated Press his nation supported the creation of a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over Libya aimed to prevent the type of aerial bombing unleashed on the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, killing hundreds in the Spanish Civil War. A no-fly zone would require the approval of the 15-member U.N. Security Council.
"Guernica is known throughout the world for the bombing of the civilian population. We have seen evidence of that in Libya. Let us not simply stand idly by while similar atrocities are committed again," Rudd told the AP.
Fillon said the prospect of a no-fly zone over Libya needed U.N. support "which is far from being obtained today," and he questioned whether NATO should get involved in a civil war in a North African country. The NATO chief has already rejected intervening in Libya.
Lavrov, the Russian minister, said he and Clinton didn't talk about a possible no-fly zone over Libya in their meeting Monday.
Clinton came to Geneva to make the administration's case for stronger action against Qaddafi.
"We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and those troops that remain loyal to him," Clinton told reporters a day after President Barack Obama branded Qaddafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power immediately.
British and German military planes swooped into Libya's desert over the weekend, rescuing hundreds of oil workers and civilians stranded at remote sites. The secret military missions signaled the readiness of Western nations to disregard Libya's territorial integrity when it comes to the safety of their citizens.
"Right now, our attention is focused on Libya -- and rightly so," Ashton told the Human Rights Council. "The fact that so many colleagues from across the world have gathered here today tells us something big. That what is going on -- the massive violence against peaceful demonstrators -- shocks our conscience. It should also spring us into action."
Some 1.5 million foreigners were in Libya before the uprising began. Turkey said Monday it had evacuated 18,000 citizens. Over 20,000 Chinese workers and 10,000 EU citizens have also left Libya, and tens of thousands of others have fled into the neighboring countries of Tunisia and Egypt.
The U.N. Security Council has instructed International Criminal Court to look into possible crimes against humanity occurring in Libya, only the second such referral. The first was in 2005 when the U.N. asked the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal to probe mass killings in Darfur.