step down came a day after the embattled Libyan leader offered to arm civilian supporters. “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence

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UNITED NATIONS

Muammar Gaddafi’s grip on Libya slipped further Sunday as the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on his regime and U.S. President Barack Obama bluntly told him it was time to step down. The Security Council unanimously ordered a travel and assets ban, an immediate arms embargo and a crimes against humanity investigation into the bloodshed blamed on the Libyan leader. Obama’s most direct demand yet that Gaddafi step down came a day after the embattled Libyan leader offered to arm civilian supporters. “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now,” the White House said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said measures imposed on Gaddafi and 15 other Libyans, including members of his family, were “biting sanctions.” She added all those who committed crimes would be held to account.

“Those who slaughter civilians will be held personally accountable,” Rice told the council after the vote. Speaking to reporters later, she praised the council’s “unity of purpose” in approving the resolution’s “tough and binding measures.”

Libya’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, one of the first Libyan diplomats to denounce Gaddafi and defect to the opposition, said the council’s move will provide “moral support for our people who are resisting.”

He added that it “will help put an end to this fascist regime which is still in existence in Tripoli.”

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the sanctions were “a powerful expression of the deep concern, indeed the anger, of the international community.”

It had been unclear whether China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the 15-nation body, would join the consensus on the resolution. The Chinese delegation had been awaiting instructions from Beijing on how to vote until shortly before the vote, council diplomats said.

China backs sanctions

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong told fellow council members concerns about the many Chinese nationals in Libya, most employed in the oil industry, had played a key role in his decision to vote for the resolution.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud spoke of a momentous transformation underway in the Middle East and North Africa.

“A wind of liberty and change is sweeping throughout the Arab world and I think the Security Council succeeded to respond to this new era of international relations,” he said.

Diplomats said there was broad agreement on the council on the need to punish long-time Libyan leader Gaddafi and others in the North African country’s ruling elite for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Dabbashi on Friday urged the council to urgently impose sanctions on Libya’s leadership. Ban said in a speech to the council that “even bolder action may become necessary” in coming days.

Council members were initially divided over whether to immediately refer the Libyan crackdown to the permanent war crimes court in The Hague. Diplomats said a number of council members, including China, Brazil, India and Portugal, had voiced reservations about the ICC language.

All of them eventually dropped their resistance to an immediate ICC referral, as called for in the British-French-drafted resolution, the envoys said.

A letter from Libyan Ambassador to the UN Abdel-Rahman Shalgam was said to have helped convince some hesitant UN members, including some African allies of Gaddafi such as South Africa, Gabon, India and Nigeria.

The letter obtained by Al Arabiya supported the resolution to refer the Libya file to the International Criminal Court.

“I have the honor to confirm that the Libyan delegation to the United Nations supports the measures proposed in the draft resolution to hold to account those responsible for the armed attacks against the Libyan civilians, including through the International Criminal Court,” Shalgam wrote.

Council’s second ICC referral

Human Rights Watch’s Richard Dicker said in a statement “the Security Council tonight rose to the occasion and showed leaders worldwide that it will not tolerate the vicious repression of peaceful protesters.”

The council has referred only one other case to the ICC — the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The court has indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and other crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The resolution called for an end to the violence in Libya and said “the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Earlier this week Dabbashi urged the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect rebel enclaves from forces loyal to Gaddafi. That proposal was not in the resolution.

“Opened the doors to a civil war”

In Libya, Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam told Al Arabiya television protesters trying to topple his father were being manipulated and the situation had “opened the doors to a civil war”.

“Our Arab brothers pay monthly salaries to journalists and tell them to write and incite against Libya, write against Gaddafi,” he said.

People in “three-quarters of the country are living in peace” he said, denying that African mercenaries had been recruited to crack down on protesters.

In a rabble-rousing speech that presaged a bloody battle for the capital, Kadhafi told Gaddafi’s supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square on Friday the rebels, who control almost the entire east of Libya, would be defeated.