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EU Denounces Libya Violence; Prepares to Evacuate Nationals

Belgium's FM Steven Vanackere (L) watches the media during an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, Feb 21 2011
Belgium's FM Steven Vanackere (L) watches the media during an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, Feb 21 2011

The European Union has denounced the harsh crackdown by Libyan authorities against anti-government protesters as reports emerge of scores of dead in the capital Tripoli.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are endorsing a statement condemning Libya's repression of anti-government protesters. It calls on the country to respect Libyans' right to free expression and assembly.

Europe is preparing emergency plans to evacuate its nationals and France has urged its 750 citizens to leave the country.

Men carry a coffin at Al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi on Feb 2011
Men carry a coffin at Al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi on Feb 2011

France's European Affairs minister Laurent Wauquiez said reports of killings in Libya are unacceptable. He said France and the EU have a responsibility to ensure human rights are respected.

Analyst Rime Allaf, of the London-based Chatham House, believes western governments must respond far more strongly to the violence in Libya than they have at present.

"This is a new situation. It could get very bad and very bloody and that's why a lot more than grave concern from the international community is needed,"said Allaf. "There must be a much bigger interference to save the people of Libya.

Overall, Europe has been criticized for reacting too slowly to protest movements mushrooming in the Arab world. The EU foreign ministers are expected to announce a new partnership with Egypt and Tunisia, where peoples' revolts have ousted longtime leaders.

Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini, who is due in Egypt this week along with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, talked about crafting a major aid plan for the region.

"I prepared a paper in writing proposing a pact for Mediterranean, including a Marshall Plan, including economic development."

The EU also wants to assist Egypt and Tunisia create new democracies, drawing from its own experiences. Some EU members have emerged from communism; Spain and Portugal moved from dictatorships to democracy.

"It's not rocket science, democracy" said Chatham House's Rime Allaf. "It's very simplistic, simple to use by the EU and the US. It's basically the one-person-one vote system, accountability, transparency. There's not much that can apply to one country that cannot to another."

The EU already offers billions of dollars in aid to Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Ms. Ashton says she will ask for another $1.4 billion in European Investment Bank loans for North Africa.

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