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Protesters in Libya demand Gaddafi ouster and reforms

By Maggie Michael
Thursday, February 17, 2011; A08

CAIRO - Unrest in Libya spread on Wednesday, with riot police clashing with protesters in Benghazi, the nation's second-largest city, and marchers setting fire to security headquarters and police stations in two other cities, witnesses said.

The government of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi sought to allay further demonstrations by proposing to double government employees' salaries and release 110 suspected Islamic militants who oppose him - tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab regimes in the recent wave of protests.

Activists using Facebook and Twitter have called for nationwide demonstrations Thursday to demand the ouster of Gaddafi, the establishment of a constitution, and comprehensive political and economic reforms. Gaddafi came to power in 1969 through a military coup and has ruled the country without an elected parliament or a constitution.

The protest in Benghazi began Tuesday in response to the arrest of an activist. It quickly took on an anti-government tone, witnesses and other activists said. The demonstration was relatively small, but it signaled that anti-government activists have been emboldened by uprisings elsewhere.

It started at the local security headquarters after troops raided the home of rights advocate Fathi Tarbel and took him away, according to Switzerland-based activist Fathi al-Warfali.

Tarbel was released after meeting with Abdullah al-Sanousi, Libya's top security official, but the protesters proceeded to march through the coastal city to the main downtown plaza, Warfali said.

Protests were renewed on Wednesday as the families of four other activists still in custody, including author Idris al-Mesmari, marched on security headquarters to demand their release, Warfali said, citing witnesses.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said a total of nine activists have been arrested in Tripoli and Benghazi in an effort to prevent people from joining the rallies planned for Thursday.

- Associated Press

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