Anti-government protesters killed in Libyan clash

Supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi take part in a pro-government rally Thursday in Tripoli.
Supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi take part in a pro-government rally Thursday in Tripoli. (Mahmud Turkia)
By Christian Lowe
Friday, February 18, 2011

TRIPOLI, LIBYA - Clashes broke out in several towns in Libya on Thursday after the opposition called for a day of protests, local residents said, while supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi rallied in the capital.

A resident of the eastern city of Benghazi said at least five people had been killed in violence in nearby towns, but with phone lines out of order and access barred for journalists, it was impossible to establish an exact death toll.

Opponents of Gaddafi, communicating anonymously online or working in exile, had urged people to protest Thursday in emulation of the popular uprisings that unseated long-serving rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

There was no sign of unrest in the capital apart from pro-Gaddafi demonstrators in the city's Green Square chanting, "We are defending Gaddafi!" and waving his portrait.

The source in Benghazi said people in the nearby town of Al Bayda had reported that the death toll there had risen to five. Two young men were killed Wednesday, and three others died in clashes after their burial, he said.

The same source said there were reports of several deaths in Ajdabiya, about 100 miles west of Benghazi.

The towns are all in the eastern Cyrenaica region, centered on Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has historically been weaker than elsewhere in the country.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said Libyan authorities had detained 14 activists and writers who had been preparing the anti-government protests.

In a possible move to calm the unrest, the Benghazi-based Quryna newspaper, which has ties to Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, reported that Libya's parliament was preparing to make "major shifts," including government personnel changes.

Libya has been tightly controlled for more than 40 years by Gaddafi, Africa's longest-serving leader, and has immense oil wealth. It has nevertheless felt the ripples from the recent uprisings.

"We have problems," said Mustafa Fetouri, a Tripoli-based political analyst. "This is a society that is still behind in many ways."

However, he added: "I do not really see it [unrest] spreading . . . Gaddafi remains well respected."

Libya bans all political parties, public dissent is rarely tolerated and under Gaddafi, rights groups say, thousands of his opponents have been jailed.

- Reuters

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