• Protesters take control of several Libyan cities

      February 19, 2011
      Print : World

      LONDON/TRIPOLI: ‘Qadhafi demonstrators have taken over several cities in eastern Libya but have suffered scores of deaths, according to exiled opposition groups in London,’ The Guardian reports.

      Reuters says it has been told by “two separate Libyan exile groups” that “anti-government protesters have seized control of the eastern Libyan city of al Bayda after they were joined by some local police.”

      And the BBC reports that “witnesses in the Libyan city of Benghazi say hundreds of people, at least, have gathered for an anti-government protest. A lawyer in Benghazi told the BBC that thousands of people were outside the city’s courthouse.”

      Meanwhile, thousands of people took part in Friday prayers and afterwards at the funerals of the dead in a square outside the court in northern Benghazi,” one witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Thirteen victims were buried in the city’s Hawari cemetery, he added.

      Another witness said new demonstrations broke out after the funerals in Benghazi, and that public buildings there were burned.

      In Thursday’s clashes in Benghazi, 14 people were killed, according to local medical sources. Quryna newspaper, based in the city, reported that the protesters were all killed by live fire.

      Human Rights Watch said earlier that it had confirmed eight dead among 17 reported killed by a witness in Benghazi.

      In a related development, Moamer Qadhafi’s regime vowed on Friday to snuff attempts to challenge the Libyan leader, after an opposition “day of anger” turned into a bloodbath that a rights group said cost at least 24 lives.

      “The response of the people and the Revolutionary Forces to any adventure by these small groups will be sharp and violent,” the Revolutionary Committees said on the website of their newspaper, Azzahf Al-Akhdar (Green March). The committees are the backbone of Qadhafi’s regime.

      “The power of the people, the Jamahiriya (government by the masses), the Revolution and the leader are all red lines, and anyone who tries to cross or approach them will be committing suicide and playing with fire.”

      The tough line came after security forces on Thursday gunned down at least eight people in Benghazi and 16 in Al-Baida, according to a detailed account from Human Rights Watch (HRW) that quoted unidentified witnesses.

      “The security forces’ vicious attacks on peaceful demonstrators lay bare the reality of Moamer Qadhafi’s brutality when faced with any internal dissent,” said HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

      A medical source in Benghazi, speaking to AFP on Friday, put the death toll there at 14 — a figure confirmed by Ramadan Briki, the locally-based chief editor of Quryna, a national newspaper.

      In another sign of growing disorder in Libya, about 1,000 inmates broke out of a prison in Benghazi, Quryna reported on its website, and three convicts were killed by security forces when they tried to flee another prison outside Tripoli, a source in the security services said.

      Qadhafi, 68, is the longest-serving leader in the Arab world, but his oil-producing North African nation is bookended by Tunisia and Egypt, whose long-time leaders have been toppled in the face of popular uprisings.

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