President Obama said today that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and "must step down from power and leave" immediately. Obama spoke at a news conference where he also said he had approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help evacuate refugees fleeing the violence in Libya.
At a brief news conference with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama said, "It's time for Qaddafi to go."
It was a forceful declaration from the president, whose reaction to the Libyan leader's crackdown on rebels was muted at first and has strengthened as U.S. citizens were able to get out of the country.
"You have seen with great clarity that he has lost legitimacy with his people," Obama told reporters. "So let me just be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Qaddafi needs to step down from power and leave. That is good for his country. It is good for his people. It's the right thing to do."
In addition to measures that the administration has already approved, including suspending embassy operations with the country, freezing $30 billion in Libyan assets in the United States, and supporting multilateral sanctions, Obama said he had authorized U.S. military transports because of the increasing humanitarian crisis.
"I have, therefore, approved the military aircraft to help move Egyptians who have fled to the Tunisian border to get back home to Egypt. I've authorized USAID to charter additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries to find their way home. And we're supporting the efforts of international organizations," Obama said.
He said that most of the current effort was aimed at easing the humanitarian crisis but that he wanted a full range of options available to him.
"What I have instructed the Department of Defense, as well as our State Department and all those who are involved in international affairs, to examine is a full range of options. I don't want us hamstrung, I want us to be making our decisions based on what's going to be best for the Libyan people in consultation with the international community," he said.
--Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this article.