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Libya sanctions: claims that Malta, Italy are only objectors denied

Malta this evening denied reports in Brussels that it and Italy are the only two countries objecting to the imposition of sanctions against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

AFP news agency reported this evening that European nations are discussing sanctions against the Libyan leader but have run against objections from some EU states, notably Italy and Malta.

Several European Union countries, notably Germany and Finland, called for sanctions against Gaddafi at talks in Brussels between foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc, AFP quoted diplomats as saying.

But a spokesman for the Maltese foreign ministry denied the report.

"Twenty-five countries are objecting and only two are in favour of sanctions," the spokesman said.

"We are calling on the Libyan authorities to stop the violence against their own people," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at a joint press conference with Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou.

"If the violence does not stop ... we will consider sanctions.Muammar Gaddafi's speech today was very scary as he has declared war on his own people," she added.

During his speech on Libyan television, Gaddafi vowed to hunt opponents of his regime, purging them "house by house" and "inch by inch".

One proposal on the table was a travel ban and assets freeze against the Libyan leader and his inner circle, said an EU diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

"If Gaddafi keeps killing people the way he has it's a necessity to do something," he said. "Sanctions must be discussed in this situation, otherwise it would be contrary to European policies."

Another option would be to suspend negotiations between Libya and the EU that began in 2008 to agree a first-ever special two-way partnership.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin that "if Libya continues with violence against its own people, sanctions will become unavoidable".

But diplomats told AFP that Italy and Malta objected, with Cyprus too apparently cautioning against any such move.

Italy, already struggling to cope with an exodus of Tunisian refugees, as well as Malta, are concerned Gaddafi could allow tens of thousands of irregular African migrants currently in Libya to leave for Europe.

Libya, with its 2,000-kilometre shoreline and 4,000 kilometres of land borders with six African nations, plays host to hundreds of thousands of would-be migrants desperate for passage across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Several European nations also have major economic stakes in the North African nation, including French and Italian oil giants Total and ENI.

"Slapping sanctions on Gaddafi might simply reinforce his nationalist stand (and) give the impression that the democratic movement in his country is coordinated overseas," said a diplomat who asked not to be identified.

The priority is to evacuate European nationals, said another source.

Earlier today several European nations, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, announced the dispatch of military plans to repatriate their citizens.

Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere said "the hour is not right for flexing muscles.

"If the situation deteriorates there will be time to draw the proper conclusions."

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