UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council agreed Friday to urgently consider sanctions against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime to try to end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters.
Under pressure from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take "concrete action" to protect civilians, the council decided to meet again Saturday morning to discuss options. Brazil's U.N. Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the current council president, said "there is a possibility" a sanctions resolution could be adopted on Saturday.
France, Britain, Germany and the United States circulated a draft resolution that would impose an arms embargo on Gadhafi's government and an asset freeze and travel ban on Gadhafi's family and regime leaders.
It also would refer the violent crackdown in Libya to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible crimes against humanity.
An uprising against Gadhafi's regime began Feb. 15 and has swept over nearly the entire eastern half of the country. The regime has responded by opening fire on protesters in a number of cities, witnesses have said.
On Friday, militias loyal to ruler Moammar Gadhafi opened fire on thousands of protesters in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after Friday's council session that there is broad agreement on the asset freeze and travel ban, which will affect about 20 people, and on an arms embargo.
He said referring Libya to the war crimes tribunal is more controversial but necessary because "horrendous crimes are (being) committed in Libya."
The Security Council again called for "an immediate end to the violence," expressing grave concern at the deteriorating situation, particularly "reports of civilian casualties on a very large scale."
Araud said a U.N.-authorized "military operation is not an option at this stage."
U.S. military action is considered unlikely, although the Obama administration has not ruled out participation in an internationally administered protective no-fly zone.
Ban said estimates indicate more than 1,000 people have been killed and that people cannot leave their homes for fear of being shot. He urged the council to take action urgently.
"Let us be mindful of the urgency of the moment," Ban said. "In these circumstances, the loss of time means more loss of lives."
In Washington, President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday freezing assets held by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and four of his children in the United States. The Treasury Department said the sanctions against Gadhafi, three of his sons and a daughter also apply to the Libyan government.
Ban said he would meet Obama at the White House on Monday to discuss the Libyan crisis.
The Security Council met in New York hours after the U.N. Human Rights Council called for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity and recommended Libya's suspension from membership of the top human rights body.
The Human Rights Council's unanimous decision at the end of a daylong emergency meeting at its Geneva headquarters was dramatically preceded by the public renunciation of Gadhafi by all Libyan diplomats in Geneva — swelling the rebellion of Libyan officials around the globe.
At the Security Council, Libya's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham did an about-face and denounced Gadhafi whom he had praised on Tuesday as "my friend." He explained that he initially "could not believe" Gadhafi's troops were firing on the protesters, but having seen the Libyan leader call for the protests to be put down by force, he was now urging that sanctions be imposed.
"They are asking for their freedom. They are asking for their rights. They did not throw a single stone and they were killed," Shalgham said. "I tell my brother Gadhafi: Leave the Libyans alone."
When he finished speaking, he was embraced by his tearful deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who along with the rest of the Libyan Mission had denounced Gadhafi's crackdown and demanded that he step down. As Dabbashi wept, he was also embraced by many ambassadors and the secretary-general.
Also Friday, senior Libyan diplomats in Portugal, France, Sweden and at the U.N.'s cultural and education organization UNESCO announced their rejection of Gadhafi's regime.
In an unprecedented move against one of its own members, the Human Rights Council also called for Libya's ouster from the group.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to meet early next week to vote on the suspension request.
In Brussels, NATO held an emergency meeting Friday on the deteriorating situation in Libya but took no action. Its chief said it had no plans to intervene.
Associated Press reporters Anita Snow at the United Nations, and John Heilprin and Frank Jordans in Geneva, contributed to this report.