Britain urges Gaddafi to stand down

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Britain has called on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to stand down

Britain has joined international calls for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to quit as intensive efforts continued to find and rescue the last of the Britons attempting to flee bloody violence.

With opponents of the regime preparing for battle in a city just 30 miles from Tripoli, William Hague said: “Of course it is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go. That is the best hope for Libya”.

The Foreign Secretary said he had revoked diplomatic immunity for the dictator and his family and the Treasury was urgently tracking down UK-held assets to be frozen under United Nations sanctions.

In an unprecedented unanimous vote, the UN Security Council also agreed to refer the brutal repression of the popular uprising to the International Criminal Court.

With no sign of Gaddafi bowing to domestic or outside pressure to step down, however, Mr Hague said the Foreign Office was still “working intensively” to identify Britons seeking to flee.

A charter flight landed at Gatwick Airport from Malta on Sunday evening carrying 78 Britons – among them oil workers dramatically plucked from remote desert locations by special forces. Another aircraft is due to depart from the Maltese city of Valletta.

Mr Hague confirmed that the operation – using two RAF Hercules transporter aircraft – had been carried out without the permission of the authorities in Tripoli. But he would not be drawn on whether any further such evacuation sorties were planned.

Mr Hague also confirmed that ex-prime minister Tony Blair had held telephone conversations with Col Gaddafi over recent days – amid reports the Government asked him to urge the leader to leave.

And he said Mr Blair had been “right” to offer the “hand of friendship” to the regime in the 1990s – in return for it renouncing terrorism and giving up nuclear weapon ambitions.

“If we hadn’t done that we might have been in a worse position now,” he said.

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