Go now, US Senate tells Gaddafi

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Soldiers and dozens of tanks from the Libyan military's elite Khamis Brigade search vehicles (AP)

The US Senate has condemned the “gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya” and demanded that its leader Muammar Gaddafi leave office.

Senators unanimously passed a resolution early on Wednesday that also urged the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

It came after the 192 member nations of the UN General Assembly suspended Libya from the world body’s Human Rights Council in the latest international effort to halt Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on protesters.

The US Senate resolution, which does not have the force of law, applauded the Libyan people for standing up “against the brutal dictatorship” of Gaddafi and for demanding democratic reforms. It called on the Libyan leader to desist from further violence, release people who had been arbitrarily detained and ensure the safe passage of those wishing to leave the country.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s forces battled poorly-armed rebels for control of towns near the capital Tripoli, trying to create a buffer zone around his seat of power. Amid the intensified fighting, the international community stepped up moves to isolate the long-time Libyan leader.

US defence secretary Robert Gates said he ordered two ships into the Mediterranean, including the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, and he was sending 400 marines to the vessel to replace some troops that left recently for Afghanistan.

Military leaders considering a no-fly zone over Libya said it would be a complex task that would require taking out Gaddafi’s air defences and Russia’s top diplomat dismissed the idea as “superfluous”, saying world powers should focus on sanctions.

Gaddafi’s son Saif warned Western forces not to take military action and said the country was prepared to defend itself against foreign intervention. “If they attack us, we are ready,” he said, adding that the Gaddafis were ready to implement reforms.

Facing an unprecedented challenge to his 41-year rule, Gaddafi’s regime has launched the bloodiest crackdown in a wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in the Middle East. Gaddafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country but still holds Tripoli and other nearby cities.

An exact death toll has been difficult to obtain in the chaos, but a medical committee in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began on February 15, said at least 228 people had been killed, including 30 unidentified bodies and 1,932 wounded. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon cited reports that perhaps 1,000 have died in Libya.

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