PARIS – France and Germany threatened to hit Libya with EU sanctions for Muammar Qaddafi's fierce crackdown on protesters, while the European Union said the violence in Libya could constitute "crimes against humanity" and urged an independent probe into it.
"The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday, raising the possibility of cutting all economic and business ties between the EU and Libya. "The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights."
The European Union has faced criticism for an initially cautious, measured response to the bloodshed in Libya and in other Arab countries swept up in a wave of popular protests against authoritarian regimes. The bloc's 27 members have disagreed on how hard-hitting a tone to take against Libya, their neighbor across the Mediterranean and a major supplier of their oil.
But by Wednesday, momentum seemed to be building toward a tougher response to strongman Qaddafi, who has vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood."
"A political leader who has decided to bomb his own citizens has lost all legitimacy to continue leading his country," Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said.
The European Union president, Herman Van Rompuy, said Libya has committed "horrible crimes that are unacceptable and must not remain without consequences."
The comments came after the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday demanded the violence in Libya stop immediately. Peru suspended diplomatic relations with Libya and was asking the U.N. Security Council to establish a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace "to prevent the use of that country's warplanes against (its) population."
In a sign of Qaddafi's loosening grip on power, some Libyan diplomats abroad have distanced themselves from him. The embassies in Vienna, in Prague and in Bratislava, Slovakia,all condemned the violence. "Long live free Libya!" said a statement from the Libyan embassy in the Czech capital.
Ahead of Friday's emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Libya, the EU pushed for an independent U.N.-led probe into the killing of protesters and other human rights abuses allegedly committed by Libyan security forces.
An EU draft resolution said the bloc "strongly condemns the recent extremely grave human rights violations committed in Libya, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, which if widespread and systematic, may amount to crimes against humanity."
France's president proposed sanctions including barring those implicated in the crackdown from the EU and monitoring their financial transactions. He also wants to ensure they are brought to justice.
Sarkozy also wants to examine the possibility of suspending economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya, a presidential statement said. Sarkozy's proposal was a sharp turnaround from 2007, when he hosted Qaddafi for a pomp-filled visit to Paris, and the two countries agreed on deals for arms and nuclear reactors worth billions of euros (dollars) — many of which never materialized.
Germany's foreign minister said sanctions would be "inevitable" if the Libyan regime continues to put down protests so violently.
"There is a great deal of agreement with many partners in the European Union here," Guido Westerwelle said. "If this violence continues, everyone in Europe will know that this cannot go unanswered."
"I cannot imagine that, given these terrible pictures, these terrible events in our immediate neighborhood, any other policy is possible in Europe," he added.
In 2009, Libya's major export customers were European: Italy received about 38 percent of its exports, Germany had 10 percent, and France and Spain had about 8 percent each, according to the CIA World Factbook.
That same year, Libya received nearly 19 percent of its total imports from Italy, followed by China at 10 percent, and Germany and Turkey at about 10 percent, the CIA reported. France accounted for less than 6 percent.
Libya's crackdown on protesters has killed nearly 300 people, according to a partial count by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of some 1,000 people killed in the violence in Libya were "credible," although he stressed that information about casualties was incomplete.
The crisis has sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years. On Wednesday, heavy gunfire broke out in Tripoli as forces loyal to Qaddafi tightened their grip on the capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere.
Frank Jordans in Geneva, Anita Snow at the U.N. in New York, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Daniel Woolls in Madrid and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.