BENGHAZI, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi came under intensified international pressure Monday to halt attacks on anti-regime protesters, with the Pentagon dispatching ships and aircraft to the Mediterranean Sea and the Treasury Department freezing $30 billion in assets tied to the dictator and his family.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi launched counterattacks on cities held by rebels, but apparently failed to dislodge them from the key western city of Zawiyah, 50 miles from the capital, Tripoli. There were reports that Gadhafi's government had launched new airstrikes against its opponents.
As new violence flared, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that the Libyan leader leave. "It is time for Gadhafi to go — now, without further violence or delay," she said at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Gadhafi, in an interview with three Western news organizations, laughingly dismissed the idea of ceding power.
"How can one believe this statement when he (Gadhafi) says there is absolutely no demonstrations whatsoever?" U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in an interview with McClatchy in Washington. "He has declared war on his own people and so he lost totally his legitimacy."
The U.N. has "reports and information (that) suggest quite credible figures of killings in the thousands" of protesters by Gadhafi militiamen and African mercenaries since the insurrection erupted nearly two weeks ago, said Ban, who discussed the crisis earlier in the day with President Obama.
Pentagon spokesmen didn't detail the purpose of the U.S. ship and aircraft movements, but the moves didn't appear to signal direct U.S. military intervention in Libya. Among the ships being sent, reports said, is the USS Kearsarge, which carries nearly 2,000 Marines and dozens of helicopters.
In Geneva, Clinton suggested the mission was primarily humanitarian.
"We do believe that there will be the need for support for humanitarian intervention. We also know that there will probably, unfortunately, be the need for rescue missions" because of the large numbers of people fleeing Libya and neighboring Tunisia, she said. "There is not any pending military action involving U.S. naval vessels."
In Benghazi, liberated from Gadhafi's control, residents strongly oppose outside military intervention in what they consider a purely Libyan revolution.
"No foreign intervention. We don't want to be like Iraq," said Ahmed Sukaya Pobaee, a lieutenant in the new anti-Gadhafi army.
The State Department said it's dispatching aid teams to Libya's refugee-choked borders with Egypt and Tunisia.
The U.N. is stockpiling medicines and foods to rush into Libya on the eastern border with Egypt, Ban said, but the Gadhafi regime is refusing to allow the organization into Tripoli to do the same there.