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Reports say up to 40 dead in Libya; Gaddafi faces challenges to rule

By Reuters
Saturday, February 19, 2011 0:43 EDT
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Libya’s Gaddafi faces challenge to four decades of rule

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s veteran ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, faces one of his severest challenges amid protests by thousands in the second city of Benghazi and reports that more than 40 people have been killed by security forces.

The demonstrations on Friday against his four decades in power were unprecedented with Amnesty International saying 46 people had been killed in a three-day crackdown.

Any funerals of dead protesters could act as further flashpoints for demonstrators emboldened by uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt that toppled long-ruling presidents.

“Special forces who have a very strong allegiance to Gaddafi are still fighting desperately to gain to control, to gain ground and the people are fighting them street by street,” said a resident of Benghazi identified as Mohammed by the BBC.

The broadcaster said residents in Benghazi reported there was no electricity in parts of the city and that tanks were stationed outside the court building.

While the level of unrest has not previously been seen before in the oil exporter, Libya-watchers say the situation is different from Egypt, because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems.

Gaddafi is also respected in much of the country, though less so in the Cyrenaica region around Benghazi.

“For sure there is no national uprising,” said Noman Benotman, a former opposition Libyan Islamist who is based in Britain but is currently in Tripoli.

“I don’t think Libya is comparable to Egypt or Tunisia. Gaddafi would fight to the very last moment,” he said by telephone from the Libyan capital.

The BBC quoted one Benghazi protester as saying some soldiers had switched sides and that people clambered unopposed on to three tanks.

“The soldiers say we are citizens of this country and we cannot fight our citizens,” he said.

Tight government control and media restrictions have limited the amount of information emerging about the unrest.

Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera said its signal was being jammed on several frequencies and its website had been blocked in Libya.

Amnesty quoted sources at a hospital in Benghazi, the focus for the violence and about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of Tripoli, as saying the most common injuries were gunshot wounds to the head, chest and neck. Officials have given no death toll, or commented directly on the unrest.

“This alarming rise in the death toll, and the reported nature of the victims’ injuries, strongly suggests that security forces are permitted lethal use of force against unarmed protesters calling for political change,” Amnesty said.

EASTERN LIBYA FOCUS OF PROTESTS

The privately owned Quryna newspaper said that in Benghazi thousands of residents had gathered on Friday for the funeral processions of 14 protesters killed in clashes there. Thousands more had demonstrated in front of Benghazi court building.

Opposition activists said protesters fought troops for control of the nearby town of Al Bayda, scene of some of the worst violence over the past two days, where townspeople said they were burying 14 people who were killed in earlier clashes.

Residents said that by Friday evening the streets were calm but there were conflicting accounts about whether opposition activists or security forces were in control of the town.

Ashour Shamis, a London-based Libyan journalist, said protesters had stormed Benghazi’s Kuwafiyah prison and freed dozens of political prisoners. Quryna said 1,000 prisoners had escaped and 150 had been recaptured.

The unrest though was not on a national scale with most protests confined to the east around Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has traditionally been weak. There were no reliable reports of major protests elsewhere, and state media said there had been pro-Gaddafi rallies in the capital.

CALM IN TRIPOLI

Quryna newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying the General People’s Congress, or parliament, would adopt a “major shift” in government policy including appointing new people to senior positions. It gave no details and the sources could not be clarified.

A sermon at Friday prayers in Tripoli, broadcast on state television, urged people to ignore reports in foreign media “which doesn’t want our country to be peaceful, which … is the aim of Zionism and imperialism, to divide our country.”

Text messages sent to mobile phone subscribers thanked people who ignored calls to join protests. “We congratulate our towns which understood that interfering with national unity threatens the future of generations,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, William Maclean in London and Geneva bureau; Writing by Matthew Jones; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Reuters
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  • Anonymous

    “The soldiers say we are citizens of this country and we cannot fight our citizens,” he said.

    Yes. This is what it always comes down to. It is always the crucial decision made by front line soldiers. Hopefully it will extend up through the ranks. Gaddafi is a butcher. I hope he’ll be treated accordingly.

  • Johnny Warbucks

    Ha’aretz is reporting 84 dead. I watched a video on CNN (yes, yes, yes, I confess I watched about 5 minutes of Anderson Cooper’s spin) and it was horrifying. He also had a Libyan man on the phone who was detailing the horror. But what else can be expected of a sanguine tinpot demented dictator who learned all his tricks from the Castro brothers?

  • Johnny Warbucks

    The problem is that Qadafi figured that one out pretty quickly and hired himself foreign thugs from Pakistan, Jordan and other countries to do the bidding for him. They are ruthless and with a real penchant for blood. I watched a video last night and it was horrifying.

  • Anonymous

    Scenes from Libya’s Deadly “Day of Rage”
    Deadly attacks on peaceful protests – that is what eyewitnesses are reporting from all over Libya. Many amateur videos have also been uploaded, which cannot be independently verified. http://www.newslook.com/videos/291956-scenes-from-libya-s-deadly-day-of-rage?autoplay=true

  • Anonymous

    The government troops need to side with the citizens and go against the mercenaries. If the citizens were armed with sniper rifles, their chances would be much better.

  • Johnny Warbucks

    Actually, the man they interviewed by phone on CNN last night was describing how many of the policemen/soldiers were putting down their weapons and joining the protests. Hence why this MoFo Qadafi hired mercenaries to do the job. He’s one sick bastard!

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/6EX2KJ7LSZMDCBZWCH62Q7CABY Sandra

    The mercenaries are probably Xe.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PCHLMPBJKYTW3LJBHZEZMO3TXQ What Ever

    What do you want to bet the arms Daffy Qadafi is using against his people came from us as part of our never ending quest to suck up to any despot for oil.

  • Anonymous

    Gaddafi and his scoundrel son will soon be gone to join their friend Ali from tunisia – i hope the saudis are quickly building tracks of super luxury villas for all the dictators i mean ‘strongmen’ who will be needing a place to stay before this is all over

    to me the news of the slaughter and wounding of people at peaceful funeral processions has been among the most disturbing and outrageous things.

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