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UPDATE: Protests for democracy in Libya held across Canada today

About 200 people are gathered on Parliament Hill at this moment calling on the Harper government to take action to stop the repression in Libya and allow for democracy there.

Rallies are also taking place in Toronto, London, Victoria, Windsor, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Fredericton, Montreal and other communities across Canada.

Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi took power in a military coup in 1969. This month, mass protests and demonstrations began against his decades of authoritarian rule. Civil society has been calling on governments around the world as well as international organizations to immediately impose an arms embargo on Libya preventing transfer of equipment and personnel, and to implement an asset freeze against al-Gaddafi, those associated with him, and anyone else involved in human rights abuses.

Human rights abuses in Libya include no freedom of speech or assembly, a prohibition on independent human rights organizations, ethnic discrimination, arbitrary arrest, political prisoners held for years without charge, and a judiciary controlled by the government.

Today, CBC reports that, “Canada has suspended diplomatic relations with Libya and evacuated its ambassador and all staff from the strife-torn North African country.”

The Toronto Star adds that, “Canada is preparing a full range of sanctions against the Libyan regime as situation in the violence-battered North African country spirals out of control, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday evening. ..’I’ve instructed our officials to prepare a full range of sanctions against the Libyan regime, both in collaboration with our international partners or unilaterally if necessary,’ said Harper in an announcement made late Friday. ‘No options have been ruled out.’ …’Those responsible for ordering and carrying out atrocities against the Libyan people must be held accountable,’ said Harper, adding that Canada will support a move by the U.N. Security Council to impose sweeping sanctions that could include an arms embargo, individual sanctions against key Libyan officials and an asset freeze. Canada is asking the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court and is also calling for Libya’s immediate suspension from the U.N. Human Rights Council… Canada’s announcement to move toward sanctions follows a similar step from the White House. The Americans have said they are asking allies to work with them on efforts to put pressure on Gadhafi to resign.”

Speakers in Ottawa – including Monia Mazigh and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar – called for more than just words from Harper, they demanded action.

It should be noted that the CBC’s Brian Stewart has written, “When (al-Gaddafi) abandoned his nuclear weapons plans in 2003, with great fanfare, international sanctions against his regime were dropped and countries now came running with new or upgraded diplomatic missions. Among the swift, Canada, which had already begun regular ministerial visits and was proclaiming Libya ‘a beautiful, peaceful country – full of potential’. In the rush for Gadhafi’s favours, many Western democracies were surprising willing to brush aside his past acts of sponsoring terrorism and violence abroad, as well as to overlook his horrifying record of brutal repression at home. Small wonder his already apparent megalomania seemed to know no bounds as formerly unfriendly governments now sought earnest trade and philosophical talks with (him).”

As of last week, those opposing al-Gaddafi are reported to be in control of several coastal town and cities in easter and central Libya, while other reports indicate that he only maintains power in some parts of the capital city of Tripoli and the town of Sabha. The world has been shocked by the al-Gaddafi government’s violent response against the protests and the killing of hundreds of people calling for democracy in Libya.