GENEVA – Russia's top diplomat ruled out the idea of creating a no-fly zone over Libya on Tuesday as embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi unleashed bombing raids, special forces and army troops in a desperate bid to retain power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the idea of imposing limits on Libyan air space as "superfluous" and said world powers must instead focus on fully using the sanctions the U.N. Security Council approved over the weekend.
Leaders in the U.S., Europe and Australia have suggested the military tactic — used successfully in northern Iraq and Bosnia — to prevent Gadhafi from bombing his own people. But Russia's consent is required as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.
Russian newswires quoted a Kremlin source Tuesday saying Gadhafi must step down, since by using force against civilians he has become a "political corpse." Still, Russian NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin also cautioned against moving militarily against Gadhafi without U.N. authorization.
"If someone in Washington is seeking a blitzkrieg in Libya, it is a serious mistake because any use of military force outside the NATO responsibility zone will be considered a violation of international law," Rogozin told Russia's Interfax news agency in Brussels on Tuesday.
"A ban on the national air force or civil aviation to fly over their own territory is still a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country, and at any rate it requires a resolution of the U.N. Security Council," he said.
Italy voiced support for a no-fly zone over Libya, which is critical given that Italian bases would likely be used to enforce it. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini says a no-fly zone would be useful to prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people, but insisted that it would have to be enforced.
"In the Balkans, it had important results: it prevented Milosevic's planes from bombing unarmed populations," Frattino told the Il Messaggero newspaper in Rome. "I believe it could be successful also in Libya, because it would prevent bombing in Cireniaica and the areas taken from Gadhafi's control."
Italy just suspended a treaty with Libya that had a nonaggression clause, removing a possible obstacle to the use of military bases in Italy for a no-fly zone. The 2008 "friendship treaty" signed by Gadhafi and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi had called for Rome to pay Libya $5 billion as compensation for its 30-year colonial rule. Libya in return promised to help Italy crack down on illegal immigrants.
There are several U.S. and NATO bases in Italy, and the U.S. 6th Fleet is based near Naples, Italy.
U.N. council members did not consider imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, and no U.N.-sanctioned military action was planned. NATO says any intervention in Libya would have to be U.N.-authorized.
The Security Council's sanctions so far include an arms embargo on Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter and leaders of revolutionary committees accused of much of the violence against opponents. It urged 192 member nations to freeze Libyan assets and authorized an investigation into Gadhafi's regime for possible crimes against humanity.
The Europe Union added its own sanctions Monday to force the dictator to stop attacks on civilians and step down after 42 years of iron-fisted rule. It issued travel bans and an asset freeze against senior Libyan officials, and ordered an arms embargo on the country. Germany went further, proposing a 60-day economic embargo to prevent Gadhafi from using oil revenues to hire mercenaries to repress his people.
Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said Tuesday his nation was working out how to legally freeze all financial transactions with Libya so "the dictatorial Gadhafi family does not get any fresh money in their hands that it could use for its civil war against the Libyan people."
The action came as foreign ministers and diplomats met in Geneva for the U.N. Human Rights Council which was focusing on Libya and other uprisings that have roiled the Arab world. Libya was expected to be suspended from the council later Tuesday by the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
"Those who have abused human rights have no place in the Human Rights Council," Westerwelle told reporters.
The EU sanctions against Libya were significant because Europe has much more leverage over Libya than the United States; 85 percent of Libyan oil goes to Europe, and Gadhafi and his family are thought to have significant assets in Britain, Switzerland and Italy. Switzerland and Britain already have frozen Libyan assets.
The Libyan uprising that began Feb. 15 has swept over nearly the entire eastern half of the country, putting entire cities there out of Gadhafi's grasp. But he and his backers hold the capital of Tripoli and have threatened to put down protests aggressively.
The U.N. and other groups hope diplomats can unlock access to western parts of Libya that are now off-limits to humanitarian workers. Anna Nelson, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said her agency had "credible" reports of some patients being executed in hospitals in Libya.
"We still do not have access," she said Tuesday.
The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open — including patrolling the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.
France said it would fly aid into the opposition-controlled eastern half of Libya to aid the rebels.
Juergen Baetz in Berlin and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.