Obama Condemns Violence in Libya But Doesn't Mention Moammar Gadhafi

Thousands surge to borders in effort to escape violence.

ByABC News
February 23, 2011, 1:58 AM

Feb. 23, 2011— -- President Obama said the bloodshed in Libya was "outrageous and unacceptable," but he declined to directly censure Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi who has been blamed for much of the violent crackdown.

"The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable, so are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters," Obama said in his first televised remarks on the situation in Libya. "These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop."

The president said the Libyan government "has a strong responsibility to refrain from violence" and that it must be held accountable, but he stopped short of placing the blame on Gadhafi, Libya's eccentric dictator who has ruled for 42 years.

Obama said his staff will work with the international community to discuss the volatile situation and the administration is "doing everything we can to protect American citizens," calling it his "highest priority."

The uprising that began over the weekend has divided the country.

Libyan rebels in the eastern part of the country demanding Gadhafi's ouster claim to have taken control of another city and are sending weapons and manpower to Gadhafi's opponents in the capital of Tripoli where a brutal war is reportedly being waged by mercenaries who are terrorizing protesters.

Gadhafi's opponents claimed to have taken over the city of Misrata, which would be the furthest west -- and closest to Tripoli -- that the rebels have taken.

In the city of Benghazi, where the insurrection began, a resident told ABC News that the city was secure and under civilian and police control.

"Benghazi is in the hands of the people now. And actually all of the eastern parts of Libya is under the protesters' hands," said the resident who asked not to be identified. "In the meantime, we've managed to send weapons and people to support the people in Tripoli against the militias that Gadhafi is using. We've managed to send a few rifles and guns."

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, the first to have a reporter in the region, described a similar scene in eastern Libya with the police taking over the day-to-day functions of the city.

Tripoli, however, remains a city under siege.

Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini said today that estimates of a 1,000 people killed in the violence appeared to be credible, but he added that he didn't have complete information. Human Rights Watch pegs the number of deaths at around 300. With the country virtually sealed off, it has been impossible to confirm casualties, but footage being leaked on the Internet shows a violent picture.

Eyewitnesses describe a bloody scene unfolding in the streets of Tripoli, the nation's capital, with African mercenaries recruited and trained by Gadhafi killing indiscriminately, shooting anyone in sight.

"A woman went looking out the balcony of her house. They shot her dead, looking out of the balcony. She wasn't shouting, she wasn't even protesting. Just looking out of the balcony. They shot her dead," one resident, crying, told ABC News by phone. "These are not humans. These are gorillas."

Throughout the night, gunfire rang out as residents hunkered down in their homes.

Time Magazine reported that Gadhafi, who has controlled the country for 42 years, had ordered his security forces to sabotage oil facilities and start blowing up oil pipelines to cut off flows to ports in the Mediterranean.

The uprising in Libya has rattled oil markets. Crude oil prices closed at the highest level in two years on Tuesday as the uprising threatened to disrupt exports. Libya, an OPEC member, is the 17th largest oil producer in the world, producing 1.7 million barrels per day.

Protests Spread Across Middle East and North Africa: View ABC's Interactive Map.

In nearly an hour-long, often rambling speech Tuesday, an angry Gadhafi vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood," blamed the protests on foreigners and "rats," and said he would unleash a massive crackdown if protesters don't back down.

The violent clashes in Libya in the past week between security forces and protesters have many people scrambling to leave Libya.

Even Gadhafi's own daughter was reportedly trying to leave the country. Italian news agency Ansa and Malta Today said that a Libyan Airlines flight -- with Aisha Gadhafi reportedly on board -- attempted to land in Malta today but was turned back to Tripoli.

Aisha Gadhafi later appeared on Libyan state TV and denied the reports.