Jean-Marc Ferre) - NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT - EDITORIAL USE ONLY, AP Photo/UN
GENEVA — Governments around the world sharply condemned Libya's crackdown against opposition protesters Friday, calling for a probe into possible crimes against humanity and recommending the country's suspension from the U.N.'s top human rights body.
The unanimous decision at the end of a daylong emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council was dramatically preceded by the public defection of all Libyan diplomats in Geneva to the opposition — swelling the rebellion of Libyan officials around the globe.
Within hours Friday, senior Libyan diplomats in Portugal, France, Sweden and at the U.N.'s cultural and education organization UNESCO announced their rejection of Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, called on Gadhafi to relinquish power after more than four decades.
The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the mass killings in Libya, possibly of thousands, required the world to "step in vigorously" and immediately end the government's brutal suppression of protests in the North African country.
"The crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters," U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay told the 47-nation council. "Tanks, helicopters and military aircraft have reportedly been used indiscriminately to attack the protesters. According to some sources, thousands may have been killed or injured."
Overcoming initial resistance from some African and Asian countries, the Geneva-based council seized the growing swell of international anger against Gadhafi's regime to unanimously condemn "the recent gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Libya."
Council members slammed Libya for its "indiscriminate armed attacks against civilians, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of peaceful demonstrators, some of which may also amount to crimes against humanity."
In an unprecedented move against one of its own members, they also called for Libya's ouster from the council. That decision has to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly, which is expected to meet on the matter next week.
But the most unexpected moment of the day came when a senior diplomat with the Libyan delegation to the U.N. in Geneva took the floor, asking for a moment of silence to "honor this revolution" — and then informed the council that his entire diplomatic mission was quitting the government. Council members gave them a standing ovation.
"The young people in my country today, 100 years after the Italian fascist invasion, are today with their blood writing a new chapter in the history of struggle and resistance," Adel Shaltut told the chamber.
"We in the Libyan mission have categorically decided to serve as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will. We only represent the Libyan people," he said.
Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for 42 years, now appears to have lost control of large parts of the country, as well as any previous support he might have had in the international community.
Sarkozy urged him to step down, demanding during a visit to Turkey that Gadhafi "must go," and calling for an investigation into the violence and sanctions against the regime.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters the world would hold Gadhafi and his supporters to account for the bloodshed. "International justice has a long reach and a long memory," he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued the Kremlin's strongest criticism yet of Libya, saying Libya must not be allowed any "further exacerbation of the situation, the destruction of the civilian population."
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