Protesters consolidated control over Libya's east Wednesday and battled with Muammar Gaddafi's forces and mercenaries in Tripoli and the west. The pace of refugees and defections has steadily grown, with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warning of an immigrant exodus to Europe on a "biblical scale." Meanwhile, media and government assessments are speculating that Gaddafi's regime will fall, even as President Obama and the UN discuss sanctions or other measures shy of military action.
Obama called the killing of civilian protesters "outrageous" and "unacceptable," in his latest news conference. Libya's "actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency," he said.
A Libyan naval vessel defected to Malta while two pilots ejected from their bomber, rather than carry out orders to strike civilians on Libya's restive eastern cities. Interior Minister Abdul Fattah Younis, the second highest-ranked Libyan official and a key figure whom Gaddafi praised in a 75-minute speech on Libyan state television, has already quit his position and joined the protesters. He also predicted the fall of the regime in "hours or days" in his brief statement Tuesday.
Casualty estimates at present vary between several hundred to several thousand, but more evidence is leaking out of the restricted country about military and mercenary assaults on civilians. Unconfirmed reports indicate that eastern citizens have arrested hired fighters from African countries, said to be from Sudan, Mali, Chad, and elsewhere. The regime has also reportedly given pro-Gaddafi supporters weapons to attack protesters.
The US government and international community have taken a cautious approach to the fall of the regime. "This is the moment for the international community to act together… in sending a clear message to the Libyan government that violence is not acceptable and that the Libyan government will be held accountable for the steps it is taking," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters, without specifying any measures to be taken to protect protesters or evacuate American civilians.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley did mention the possibility of sanctions and a "wide range of tools" that may include asset freezing and visa restrictions on Libyan officials. He gave no timetable for action.