Obama-bloomberg-Feb 10, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama Photo by Bloomberg
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U.S. President Barack Obama said in a call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday that Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi should step down.

"The president stated that when a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," the White House said in a statement about the call.

The statement did not identify Gadhafi by name when calling on the Libyan leader to leave, but it said Obama and Merkel reaffirmed their support for the Libyan people's demand for universal rights and agreed that Gadhafi's government "must be held accountable."

The comments mark the first time that Obama has called on Gadhafi to step down.

Previously the White House has stopped short of calling for Gadhafi to leave, saying -- just as in other countries affected by a wave of regional unrest -- that only Libya's citizens should have a say in choosing their rulers.

On Friday the United States said it would soon impose sanctions on Libya and bluntly said Gaddafi's legitimacy had been reduced to zero.

Obama and Merkel discussed the world's response to the events in Libya in their call.

"They discussed appropriate and effective ways for the international community to respond," the White House said.

"The president welcomed ongoing efforts by our allies and partners, including at the United Nations and by the European Union, to develop and implement strong measures."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said Saturday that the people of Libya had spoken, and leader Muammar Gadhafi must go.

"We have always said that the (Gadhafi) government's future is a matter for the Libyan people to decide, and they have made themselves clear," Clinton said in a statement, echoing a harder stance against the Libyan leader by U.S. President Barack Obama.

"[Muammar Gadhafi] has lost the confidence of his people and he should go without further bloodshed and violence."

Gadhafi has launched a violent crackdown against protesters demanding his ouster. He has vowed a bloody fight to the end.

Earlier Saturday, UN Security Council diplomats clashed over a proposal to refer the deadly crackdown against anti-government demonstrators in Libya to the International Criminal Court, council envoys said.

While there was broad support for a draft resolution of sanctions to punish long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and others of the North African country's ruling elite for attacks that have killed thousands of civilians, countries appeared split over whether to refer the issue to the rarely-used war crimes court.

Diplomats said ICC members Portugal and Brazil, as well non-members India and China, were actively opposing an immediate referral and preferred language that just leaves the door open to bringing Libya to the ICC.