EU Calls Crisis Summit on Libyan, Arab Turmoil

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The European Union on Tuesday called a crisis summit of its 27 leaders next week to seek a joint response in facing the turmoil both in Libya and in Arab states on Europe's southern flank.

"In light of developments in the EU's southern neighborhood, and especially in Libya, I convened an extraordinary European Council (or summit) on 11/03," EU president Herman Van Rompuy said Tuesday on his Twitter webpage.

In town as momentum builds for a military response to Moammar Gadhafi will be defense ministers from the 28-member NATO alliance.

The emergency summit was requested by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who in a joint statement dubbed Gadhafi's brutality "totally unacceptable" and urged fresh options "for increasing pressure on the regime."

The EU this week imposed the toughest international sanctions yet on Gadhafi's crumbling regime, ordering an asset freeze and visa ban against the embattled despot and 25 of his allies accused of brutalizing civilians.

It also adopted an embargo on the sale of both arms and equipment that could be used for repression.

Diplomats told Agence France Presse the bloc was also eyeing an asset freeze on Libyan firms linked to Gadhafi's regime. Countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy, where many companies include Libyan stakeholders, are favorable.

"The Italians notably fear Libyans may sell off their stakes for a bargain to gain access to fresh funds", said a diplomat who requested anonymity.

Cameron also raised "the importance of transforming the EU's approach to the region", a reference to a shabby era of upholding despots on Europe's southern flank which has come under sharp attack in past weeks from rights groups, Euro-MPs, analysts and even governments.

"The EU must change its policies, instead of backing the status quo it must support a community of democratic states," said Alvaro de Vaconcelas of the European Union Institute for Policy Studies.

If EU leaders appear ready to review decades of "failed" policies towards their Mediterranean neighbors, they stand divided on a potential human tsunami stemming from the chaos, an issue expected to feature prominently at the talks.

European states bordering the Mediterranean, notably Italy, are highly concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya and the associated risk of an exodus of refugees and migrants.

The numbers massing at Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia to escape Gadhafi's wrath were ballooning out of control Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency said as warnings mounted of imminent food shortages.

Up to 75,000 people had fled to Tunisia since February 20, with the situation reaching "crisis-point" as tens of thousands await transport inland.

With up to 1.5 million would-be African migrants believed harbored in Libya, Italy, at the frontline of migration flows, has warned of a human tidal of "biblical proportions".

Yet at tough talks in Brussels last week, Rome failed to win support from northern Europe -- notably Austria, Germany and Sweden -- should floods of refugees and migrants wash up on its shores.

In a televised address to France on Sunday, Sarkozy said that "on the other side of the Mediterranean, an immense upheaval is underway".

"By setting democracy and freedom against all forms of dictatorship, these revolutions open a new era," he said. "We should have one goal: to help these people who have chosen to be free."

But he also warned Europe could face an "uncontrollable" wave of refugees fleeing North Africa if unrest continues.

"We do not know what the consequences of these events will be for migratory flows," he said.

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