February 18, 2011


[The killings happened after opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader for more than 40 years, designated Thursday as a day of protest to try to emulate uprisings in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia which ousted entrenched leaders.]


TRIPOLI:  Soldiers were deployed on the streets of Libya's second city of Benghazi on Friday after thousands of people took to the streets overnight to protest about security forces killing more than 20 protesters.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said that according to its sources inside Libya, security forces killed at least 24 people in crackdowns on protests on Wednesday and Thursday.

The killings happened after opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader for more than 40 years, designated Thursday as a day of protest to try to emulate uprisings in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia which ousted entrenched leaders.

In the early hours of Friday morning, Gaddafi appeared briefly at Green Square in the center of Tripoli where he was surrounded by crowds of supporters, but he did not speak.

A resident who lives on Benghazi's main thoroughfare, Nasser Street, told Reuters on Friday morning the city was now quiet, with no more demonstrations.

But he said: "Last night was very hard, there were a lot of people in the street, thousands of people. I saw soldiers in the street."

"I heard shooting. I saw one person fall down (from a gunshot wound) but I don't have a figure for casualties."

The privately-owned Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi, said security forces overnight in the city fired live bullets at protesters, killing seven of them. It cited a security source.

The newspaper published photographs of several people lying on hospital stretchers with bloodstained bandages.

Another resident in Benghazi, who said he had been in contact with people in the nearby town of al Bayda, told Reuters there had been more deaths in that town overnight, adding to at least five killed on Wednesday and Thursday.

"The confrontation between protesters and Gaddafi supporters is still going on, some of the police have become angry. There are a lot of people killed," the resident said.

Libya, holder of the Arab League's rotating presidency, said it was postponing a summit planned for Iraq in March, citing "circumstances in the Arab world." But the league's secretariat said it had received no formal notification.


Political analysts say Libya's oil wealth should give the government the capacity to smooth over social problems and reduce the risk of an Egypt-style revolt. They also say Gaddafi is widely respected, though support for him is weaker in the Cyrenaica region around Benghazi.

Two people in Benghazi, which is about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of Tripoli, told Reuters that Saadi Gaddafi, a businessman son of the Libyan leader, had taken over command of the city.

He holds senior military rank and was briefly employed as a player by Italian professional football clubs.

Funerals of those killed were expected in both Benghazi and Al Bayda on Friday. Such funerals could act as a catalyst for further protests.

Tight controls on media and communications in Libya made it difficult to assess the extent of the violence, but on Friday unverified reports on social network sites said up to 50 people had died. There was no official comment on the violence.

An official source in Benghazi, who did not want to be identified, said the overnight clashes took place around the city's Giuliana bridge.

"Everything is now under control. Security forces are now in the whole city and Benghazi is controlled by Saadi (Gaddafi)," the source said.

Gaddafi's opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption. Gaddafi says Libyans enjoy true democracy.

State television showed several hundred pro-government supporters holding a rally in Tripoli's Green Square before dawn. As Gaddafi arrived, he stood up through the sunroof of his limousine and waved to the crowd.

He then got out of the vehicle while the crowd chanted: "He is our leader!" and "We follow your path." He left after a few minutes.


[The severity of a Libyan crackdown on Thursday’s so-called “Day of Rage” began to emerge Friday when a human rights advocacy group said 24 people had been killed by gunfire and news reports said further clashes with security were feared at the funerals for the dead.]
Security forces and government supporters employed an escalating panoply of violent force — from tear gas and batons to shotguns and grenades — in pitched street battles with antigovernment protesters in LibyaBahrain and Yemen on Friday.
The clashes followed a week of deepening unrest as protesters, emboldened by the toppling of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, have called for swift revolutions in their own repressive countries. The battle lines between protesters and authoritarian rulers across the Arab world appeared to be hardening, with governments turning to an increasingly brutal script in trying to quash the protests that have swept the region.
The severity of a Libyan crackdown on Thursday’s so-called “Day of Rage” began to emerge Friday when a human rights advocacy group said 24 people had been killed by gunfire and news reports said further clashes with security were feared at the funerals for the dead.
That apprehension also seized Bahrain, when mourners for some of the five people died in a brutal assault on a democracy camp a day earlier marched on Pearl Square and were fired on. The violence has pitted a Sunni minority government against a Shiite majority in the strategic island state that is home to the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
In the windswept Bahraini village of Sitra, south of Manama, thousands of Shiites gathered for more funerals of slain protesters, chanting “The people want the fall of the government” before noon prayers.
In Yemen, protests appeared to grow larger and more violent in the city of Taiz, 130 miles south of the capital, where thousands of antigovernment protesters called for the ouster of President Ali Abullah Saleh and clashed with government supporters, news reports said. Reuters reported that a grenade exploded in a large crowd of protesters who had camped out since last Friday in the city’s Hurriya Square, killing at least one person and wounding seven more.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Friday in the tiny nation of Djibouti to demand that the country’s president step down, after a series of smaller demonstrations seeking to capitalize on the wave of unrest, The Associated Press reported. A former French colony and a strong ally of the United States, Djibouti, like Bahrain, plays host to an American military base, the only one in sub-Saharan Africa.
In Libya, according to news reports, protests continued into early Friday in Benghazi, the second-largest city, and soldiers took to the streets to quell demonstrations. Several people were reported killed.
On Thursday, thousands of protesters turned out in Benghazi; in the capitol, Tripoli; and at three other locations to mount one of the sharpest challenges to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s 40-year rule, according to Human Rights Watch.
The group’s report of 24 dead across Libya, based on what it said were accounts by “multiple witnesses” was one of the highest so far. The accounts were muted by Libya’s strict media controls, which made independent verification difficult.
Unlike in TunisiaEgypt, Yemen and Bahrain, the Libyan authorities, like those in Iran during protests last Monday, have largely prevented conventional television coverage, and the only images to emerge have been on social networking sites.
On the ground, a fog of smoke, tear gas and fresh unease descended over cities throughout the region, with demonstrations and rolling street battles lurching in violent new directions as governments fought to blunt their momentum and reassert control of the streets. States imposed curfews and ordered people to stay home, and those who defied the orders risked gunfire or beatings at the hands of security forces, private guards or pro-government crowds.
But across the Middle East, where brutal social contracts have left millions uneducated, impoverished and alienated, existing battle lines between people and their governments appeared to harden, foreshadowing more confrontations in the days ahead.
In Iran, a leading opposition figure, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was reported missing, raising fears that he had been detained in connection with this week’s anti-government rallies. The marches, the largest since the 2009 disputed elections, were put down by Iranian security and paramilitary forces. The government called for its supporters to rally Friday; the opposition called for another march on Sunday.
In Algeria, where a major protest has been called for Saturday, state television denounced “foreign interference,” while a prominent political leader, Abdelhamid Mehri, accused the government of not “responding to the hunger for integrity, liberty, democracy and social justice.”
Even in Tunisia, where protests successfully ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali last month, small groups of protesters continued to gather outside various government ministries in the capital, Tunis, demanding the resignation of the country’s caretaker government and the release of family members from prisons.
In Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak stepped down last week, Suez Canal workers in three major cities joined strikes, deepening the economic strains of the widespread labor unrest.
And in Iraq, protest leaders said they would go ahead with plans for a Saturday march in Baghdad, despite a second day of violence marring demonstrations elsewhere in the country.
“Are we expecting violence?” said Kamal Jabar, an Iraqi organizers. “Yes, we’re expecting violence. Are we going out? Yes, we’re going out.”
The Libya protests, which started earlier in the week, grew larger and bloodier as the government unleashed thousands of its supporters in countermarches.
Mohammad Ali Abdellah, the deputy leader of an exiled opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, said in a telephone interview from London that roads leading to Green Square in central Tripoli had been closed off and that people living nearby had been warned in text messages from the authorities not to join any protests.
In Al Beyda, he said, hospital authorities had appealed for international help to cope with an influx of around 30 or 40 people with gunshot wounds after security forces opened fire on protests that erupted on Wednesday night and continued into early Thursday.
The Associated Press quoted opposition Web sites as saying that security forces had fired on demonstrators, killing several, and that the government was refusing to provide medical supplies needed to treat protesters.
The unrest rippling through Iraq spread on Thursday to the more stable Kurdistan region, where security guards in Sulaimaniya fired on a group of rock-throwing protesters who had been trying to take over the offices of a local political leader. At least one person was killed.
A day ago, security forces in the eastern city of Kut killed three rock-throwing protesters, who had been among hundreds rallying to call for the provincial governor to step down. The shootings prompted the crowd to set fire to the governor’s home and offices.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the provincial government said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had ordered the governor to resign.
In a news conference, Mr. Maliki took a slightly softer stance toward the demonstrations than his counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East, saying that he was happy Iraqis were exercising their rights to demonstrate.
“But the protesters should not set fire to a building,” he said. “We should express our demands in a civilized manner.”
Jack Healy reported from Baghdad andJ. David Goodman from New York. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris; Adam Nossiter from Algiers; Thomas Fuller from Tunis; Laura Kasinof from Sana, Yemen; Michael S. Schmidt from Baghdad; and Michael Slackman from Manama, Bahrain.

@ The New York Times