WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Oil companies should stop operating in Libya until violence against Libyan citizens ends, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Tuesday.
"The Gadhafi government's use of deadly force against its own people should mean the end of the regime itself," Kerry, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said in a statement. "It's beyond despicable, and I hope we are witnessing its last hours in power. Libyans should have the opportunity to choose leaders who respect their basic rights."
He called on the international community to "put (Gadhafi) on notice that his cowardly actions will have consequences."
The Obama administration, repeating what it said during the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, said the future of Libya would be decided by Libyans, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
"As is the case throughout the region, our policy is ... (calling) very strongly for an end to the use of violence against peaceful protesters." Carney said. "We call for respect for the universal rights that these peoples of this region, as peoples all around the world, have: the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of expression. And we recognize their legitimate aspirations."
Besides calling on U.S. and international oil companies to end operations in Libya until violence against civilians ceases, Kerry said the Obama administration also should consider re-imposing U.S. sanctions lifted during the George W. Bush administration.
He said the Arab League and the African Union "have an opportunity to create a new precedent in response to the crisis in Libya. … Today, the world is watching how the region's leaders will respond to Libya."
The Arab League can demonstrate that, given the wave of popular uprisings across the region, "the old rules of impunity no longer stand," Kerry said. Additionally, the African Union can investigate reports that African mercenaries were involved "in the atrocities in Libya."
Saying Gadhafi himself was "irredeemable," Kerry said senior Libyan military officials must realize their complicity in the reported atrocities against the country's citizens -- including reports of firing live ammunition into crowds and air strikes targeting protesters marching to Manama -- could expose them to possible war crime charges.
"These are concrete steps that must be taken now and in the days ahead to show that the world will respond with actions not just words when a regime wields reprehensible violence against its own people," Kerry said.