ABU DHABI // America’s top military officer said yesterday that Libya’s violence against protesters is “absolutely unacceptable”.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the International Defence Exhibition (Idex) in the capital that “the resolution of that [Libyan situation] in a peaceful means as rapidly as possible is critical”.
“That kind of loss of life, that kind of military firing on its own people, killing its own people, is absolutely unacceptable.”
Protesters in Libya have been calling for the ouster of the country’s long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi. There have been reports that security and military forces have been firing at protesters, leading to hundreds of deaths.
Admiral Mullen, who has already been to Saudi Arabia and Qatar during his tour of the region, was speaking to reporters yesterday after meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, at Idex.
Admiral Mullen is touring the Middle East as unrest grips much of the region, with intensifying demands for political reform. Protests have already unseated the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt.
Admiral Mullen said he had found general “anxiety” about the unrest from leaders he met in the region. “I think certainly a very consistent theme is concern about it,” he said.
The steps taken by the leadership in Bahrain to mollify protesters there, withdrawing military forces from the streets and opening the way to dialogue with the opposition, were “positive” and “bold” steps, the admiral said.
He added that the decisions by Bahrain’s leadership had “relieved a number of leaders that I talked about in terms of easing the tensions”.
Bahrain was the scene of angry protests, particularly after security forces cleared Pearl Square of protesters whose demands ranged from better living conditions to political reform to make Bahrain a real constitutional monarchy.
Bahrain is majority Shia, but its king is Sunni.
“The crown prince and the king took bold steps a couple of days ago by pulling their forces off the street,” Admiral Mullen said. “Obviously the loss of life was tragic there as well, [but] he clearly has taken steps to engage the opposition … those are positive steps and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
He continued: “We all agree that this is a time of enormous change and it needs to be resolved peacefully, without violence, without loss of life. And leaders have to step forward in that regard.”
Admiral Mullen said that in addition to anxiety among leaders, he saw a focus on how to move forward “positively”.
He added that he did not foresee that the US Fifth Fleet, which is headquartered in Bahrain, would have to move to a new location as a result of the unrest.
“I’ve been in touch with our leadership there in Bahrain, and from the standpoint of support for the Fifth Fleet, support for our people, our dependence continues to be very strong, and I look to that being the case in the future,” he said.
Asked to comment on the entry of two Iranian naval vessels into the Suez Canal early yesterday morning, Admiral Mullen said he had not been aware of the news, but that it was up to the Egyptian government to control access to the canal.
“The government of Egypt controls the Suez Canal, and rightfully so. It’s theirs, and [the Iranian passage is] something they worked out with the government of Iran,” he said.
Reuters reported that the two Iranian naval ships, the first to enter the Suez Canal since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, had entered the waterway early yesterday. Iran said the ships were headed for a joint exercise with Syria.
Admiral Mullen said he had discussed with Sheikh Mohammed the security situation and changes in the region.