GENEVA — Libyan diplomats at the United Nations in Geneva declared they were defecting to the opposition Friday, delivering another blow to Moammar Gadhafi's flailing regime as international pressure built over his violent attempt to cling to power.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on the long-time leader to step down, demanding during a visit to Turkey that Gadhafi "must go," and calling for an investigation and sanctions against the regime and those who continue to do business with it.
In a dramatic scene at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, a senior diplomat with the Libyan delegation to the U.N. in Geneva asked the council to stand for a moment of silence to "honor this revolution" — and then informed the council the entire mission was quitting the government. Council members gave them a standing ovation.
"The young people in my country today, 100 years after the Italian fascist invasion, are today with their blood writing a new chapter in the history of struggle and resistance," Shaltut told the 47-nation council.
"We in the Libyan mission have categorically decided to serve as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will. We only represent the Libyan people," he said.
Libya's top diplomat in Sweden joined the rebellion against Gadhafi, telling The Associated Press he could not accept the "massacre against my own people." Abdelmagid Buzrigh, the charge d'affaires at the Libyan Embassy in Stockholm, said, however, he would not step down, because he felt he was serving everyday Libyans.
The resignations come after the U.N.'s top human rights official warned that mass killings in Libya, possibly of thousands, require the world to "step in vigorously" and immediately end a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in the North African country.
The U.N. high commissioner spoke with the most urgency yet by a U.N. official, citing estimates that thousands may have died at the hands of Gadhafi's security forces, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity.
"The crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters," Navi Pillay said during the human rights council's daylong emergency meeting. "Tanks, helicopters and military aircraft have reportedly been used indiscriminately to attack the protesters. According to some sources, thousands may have been killed or injured."
Diplomats debated whether to call for Libya's ouster from the council, in what would be an unprecedented suspension of one of its own members. It will also decide whether to heed Pillay's call for an independent U.N.-led probe of abuses in Libya.
It was only last May that the former U.S. enemy, Libya, was elected to the Geneva-based body as part of a series of attempts at political rehabilitation on the world stage.
European nations were leading the effort to condemn Gadhafi's regime that has ruled for 42 years but now appears to have lost control of large parts of the country.
"The world is watching you, the world will hold you to account," British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Friday, referring to Gadhafi's regime. "International justice has a long reach and a long memory."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement on Friday that Libya must not be allowed any "further exacerbation of the situation, the destruction of the civilian population." It is the Kremlin's strongest criticism yet of Libya.
It is the first time that the Geneva-based council has held a special session to scrutinize one of its members.
Nigeria and China were among those who condemned the violence but rejected the call to suspend Libya from the council.
Pakistan's ambassador, Zamir Akram, said the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference "strongly condemn the excessive use of force" in Libya.
Also Friday, a Paris-based Libyan official said Libya's ambassadors to France and to the U.N. cultural and education organization UNESCO had quit.
Gadhafi's response to the uprising in his country has been the harshest by any Arab leader in the wave of protests that has swept the Middle East recently, toppling the presidents of Libya's neighbors Egypt and Tunisia.
Suspending Libya's "rights of membership" under the rules for the council would require two-thirds approval of all the 192 countries in the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Human rights activists said they expect a strongly worded resolution to pass at the council, though it might be watered down by efforts to achieve the broadest possible consensus.
While efforts to ostracize Libya from the council are being driven by Europe, the United States and some Latin American countries, Asian and African nations will be wary of setting a precedent that can be used against them or their allies in future, said Peter Splinter of Amnesty International.
"This is a test of the council and the willingness of some of its more active members, such as Pakistan, South Africa, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, to take a principled stand on human rights," he said.
In Brussels, NATO was holding an emergency meeting Friday to consider the deteriorating situation in Libya. It had received no requests to intervene and said it would only do so if it were given a United Nations mandate.
The U.N. Security Council also planned to meet later Friday in New York to consider actions against Gadhafi's regime.
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France and Britain would press the Security Council for a "total embargo on weapons as well as sanctions, and also the referral of a case to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity."
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