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Obama: Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and must leave


Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET

President Obama today strongly condemned Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for his violent crackdown against protesters in the country and said the United States is considering a full range of options -- including military options -- to respond to the crisis there.

"Colonel Qaddafi needs to step down from power," the president said in a joint press conference at the White House with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. "You've seen with great clarity that he has lost legitimacy with his people."

The United States, as it monitors the continuing pro-democracy protests across the Middle East and North Africa, stands for freedom and democracy, and will not stand for violence against citizens, Mr. Obama said.

However, he said, during the anti-government protests in Libya, "you've seen violence against citizens and the act of urging of violence against unarmed citizens by Qaddafi."

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Those close to the Libyan leader "have to understand that violence they perpetrate against civilians will be monitored, and they will be held accountable for it," Mr. Obama said. "They should know history is moving against Colonel Qaddafi."

The president said he has instructed the Defense Department and the State Department to "examine a full range of options" to respond to the ongoing crisis there.

"I don't want us hamstrung," he said. "I want us making our decisions based on what's best for the Libyan people and the international community."

While there has been talk of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that it would be a large endeavor. "A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses," Gates told Congress. Clinton said the administration is a "long way" from making a decision about a no-fly zone.

President Barack Obama
President Obama makes an opening statement during his joint news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In the meantime, Mr. Obama said today he approved the use of military aircraft to help move Egyptians in Libya who have fled to the Tunisian border back to Egypt. He also instructed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to charter additional aircraft to help civilians there find their way home.

The tens of thousands of people at the border is "the biggest problem we have right now," Mr. Obama said.

However, he said there is a danger that the crisis in Libya could lead to a bloody stalemate. The U.S. must ensure, the president said, it has "full capacity to act potentially rapidly if the situation deteriorated in such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis on our hands."

With that in mind, Mr. Obama said the U.S. is considering "a whole range of options, military and nonmilitary," for responding to the events in Libya.

"We will continue to send the clear message that it's time for Qaddafi to go," he said.

Still, the president added, "I think it's very important for us to [respond] in consultation with the international community."

One of the successes of the Egyptian protests was the full ownership that Egyptians took for the developments there, he said, which served both Egyptians and Americans well.

"They felt that we hadn't tried to engineer or impose a particular outcome," he said. "The same is happening in Tunisia. I think the region will be watching carefully to make sure we are on the right side of history."

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