A ferry carrying hundreds of Americans and other evacuees finally sailed from Libya on Friday, removing what U.S. officials feared could be used as a bargaining chip by a besieged Muammar Gaddafi.
President Barack Obama's administration has been criticized for its relatively restrained response to the Libyan leader's bloody crackdown on protesters, but U.S. officials say their chief concern has been the safety of Americans in the North African country.
After talking by phone with the leaders of Britain, France and Italy on Thursday on immediate steps to end the crisis, Obama spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, the White House said.
But as Libyan government forces shot dead protesters in clashes in the capital Tripoli on Friday, there was little sign of concerted action from Washington or other foreign capitals.
There may be more clarity on Washington's position when the U.N. Security Council meets in New York later on Friday to discuss a French-British draft proposal for an arms embargo, financial sanctions and a request to the International Criminal Court to indict Libyan leaders for crimes against humanity.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to fly to Geneva for a meeting on Monday of the U.N. Human Rights Council, where she is expected to push for condemnation of Gaddafi's attempts to suppress a revolt against his four-decade rule.
The chartered ferry carrying more than 300 passengers, half of them U.S. citizens, sailed for the Mediterranean island of Malta at 6:37 a.m. EST on a journey expected to last about eight hours, the State Department said.
The vessel's departure had been delayed for two days by bad weather. Evacuees were kept on board as Gaddafi loyalists hunted opponents in the streets outside the port of Tripoli.
A number of countries have sent planes and ships to rescue thousands of their nationals from the turmoil in Libya.
The State Department said a chartered aircraft would depart from a Tripoli airfield on Friday bound for Istanbul and that seats were available for U.S. citizens on a first-come basis.
The United States is also considering closing its embassy, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
TREASURY WARNS ON LIBYA
Now that the ferry has left and other Americans are set to depart, the White House is likely to come under increased pressure from lawmakers and others to adopt a tougher stance on Libya, either by ratcheting up rhetoric or taking action.
While Obama and other U.S. officials have strongly condemned the violence, they have avoided direct criticism of Gaddafi. Obama did not mention him by name in his first public statement on the revolt in Libya on Wednesday.
"It took President Obama four days to condemn the violence. Even then, he spoke only vaguely about holding Libyan officials accountable for their crimes," said an editorial in The New York Times, which is often supportive of the Obama administration.
"There is not a lot of time. Colonel Gaddafi and his henchmen have to be told in credible and very specific terms the price they will pay for any more killing. They need to start paying right now."The Obama administration has said it is studying options that include sanctions, asset freezes, a "no-fly" zone over Libya and military action. But it has not committed itself and says it is consulting with the United Nations and allies.
In a first step, the U.S. Treasury has told American banks to closely monitor transactions that may be related to unrest in Libya for any possible signs that state assets were being misappropriated.
The Treasury advisory, issued late on Thursday, stopped short of freezing assets or imposing other financial sanctions on Gaddafi or other senior officials in his government.
The advisory is similar to the Treasury's recent requests for increased scrutiny of transactions related to the ouster of leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.