US prepares sanctions on Libya, Americans evacuate

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 25 2011 12:00 p.m. MST

Libyan protesters protest against Libyan Leader Moammar Ghadafi during a demonstration before the Friday prayers, in Benghazi, Libya, on Friday Feb. 25, 2011. Militias loyal to Moammar Gadhafi opened fire on protesters streaming out of mosques in the Libyan capital on Friday, demanding the regime's ouster, witnesses said, reporting at least four killed. Across rebellious cities in the east, tens of thousands held rallies in support of the first Tripoli protests in days.

Hussein Malla, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States moved closer Friday to imposing new sanctions on Moammar Gadhafi's regime after hundreds of Americans were evacuated from Libya. Washington considered closing its embassy in Tripoli as fresh violence rocked the country, sources told The Associated Press.

The Obama administration could impose travel bans, freeze assets and take other steps against Gadhafi loyalists as early as Friday, officials said. They said closing the embassy also was an option, though the announcement of any punitive steps depended on the safety of Americans and other foreigners remaining in the Arab country.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the extreme sensitivity of the situation, as protests against Gadhafi's 42-year rule have become an armed insurrection. The U.S. is urging Americans to leave if they can.

President Barack Obama was briefing world leaders on U.S. plans and coordinating international pressure on Gadhafi's government to stop violence against opponents. International officials say thousands may be dead.

The president spoke Friday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and they discussed measures to hold Libya's government accountable for its "unacceptable" violence, the White House said. Obama spoke with leaders from the United Kingdom, France and Italy on Thursday.

The U.S. ferried some 150 Americans out of Tripoli Friday and was chartering a plane for more evacuations.

Ahead of a possible asset freeze on the Gadhafi regime's top brass, the Treasury Department urged American banks Friday to closely monitor accounts connected to senior Libyan officials and report signs of misappropriation of government funds.

The department issued an advisory to U.S. financial institutions telling them to exercise "enhanced scrutiny" on private banking accounts held by Libyan politicians or on their behalf. The advisory stopped short of freezing their assets and is similar to earlier orders covering Tunisia and Egypt.

The move follows Thursday's order by the Swiss government blocking any assets in Switzerland belonging to Gadhafi.

In Geneva, U.S. diplomats joined a unanimous condemnation of Libya at the U.N. Human Rights Council. Countries there also agreed to establish an investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Gadhafi's crackdown on protesters and recommended that Libya be suspended from the body.

The U.N. Security Council in New York was expected to discuss the situation in the Arab country later Friday. NATO is discussing deploying ships and surveillance aircraft to the Mediterranean Sea.

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