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Home / Articles / News / World /  Uprising in Libya against Gadhafi escalates
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Monday, February 21,2011

Uprising in Libya against Gadhafi escalates

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

CAIRO, Egypt—Civilians with weapons seized from overrun army bases fought Sunday for control of Libya's eastern city of Benghazi as residents accused troops and mercenaries trying to crush an uprising against President Moammar Gadhafi of massacring more than 200 people.

The allegation could not be verified because of communications restrictions imposed by the Gadhafi regime, but the United States said it had "multiple credible reports" that hundreds of people had been killed and injured in the 5-day-old insurrection.

"There is bombing and screaming and people are running all over," Brakiah, a doctor in Benghazi, said in a telephone interview during which gunshots and blasts were frequently heard. "There is fighting. It continued from the early morning and up to now and it is increasing." She spoke on the condition her surname not be used.

In Iran, meanwhile, thousands of opposition supporters clashed with club-wielding police in the capital of Tehran and other cities in protests against the Islamic regime, according to a human rights group, witnesses and Internet videos and posts.

Pro-reform protests inspired by the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia also took place in Morocco, Algeria, Iraq and Bahrain, where demonstrators maintained a peaceful occupation of the capital's main square two days after dozens were killed and injured by troops firing live ammunition.

Protests also persisted in Yemen against the 30-year-rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who said that he was ready for talks with the opposition on demands for constitutional reforms. Shiite Muslim rebels in northern Yemen announced they would support the anti-government movement.

The worst of the violence raged in Libya on the fifth day of the uprising against Gadhafi, who is facing the gravest threat ever to his grip on power.

The mercurial dictator has presided over one of the region's most repressive regimes for more than 40 years, bolstered by revenues from oil production in which several major U.S. petroleum companies are involved.

Assessing the extent of the uprising has been difficult because the few foreign reporters based in Libya are restricted to the capital, Tripoli, and access to the Internet and outgoing telephone lines has been severely restricted.

But telephone calls to residents, news reports and online posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites indicate that the unrest has spread throughout the cities and towns along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Sidra and to other areas. There were reports of clashes Sunday in the capital, the seat of Qadhafi's power.

The bloodshed in Benghazi escalated Sunday morning after troops and African mercenaries based in a major government compound opened fire on a funeral procession for people killed a day earlier, said several people reached by telephone.

Their account was corroborated by witnesses who were quoted by Human Rights Watch as saying that mourners were hit by indiscriminate gunfire as they passed by the Katiba El Fadil Bu Omar, a heavily guarded complex that includes one of Gadhafi's residences.

"The situation in Benghazi is turmoil. Now there are riots. All the people in Benghazi came out against troops of Gadhafi's army," said Muftah, who studied for several years in South Carolina. "They burned the army camps and they've got many weapons. Many people have weapons in their hands now."

Several videos posted on YouTube seemed to back up his report. In one, thousands of people cheer men armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers riding in a white pickup. The bloodied bodies of what were said to be two African mercenaries were lashed to the vehicle's hood.

Video posted on several websites shows a bloodied man described as an African mercenary being detained by a group of protestors. He tells them "I swear by God these were orders," and they keep asking "orders from who?" He answers "orders from the officers." Some of the men begin punching and picking him, and he falls to the ground. Others protect him and shout "no!"

Muftah, whose name is being withheld out of concern for his security, and the doctor, Brakiah, charged that more than 200 people were killed and hundreds injured on Saturday when pro-Gadhafi forces fired into a funeral procession.

When the procession "came close to one of Qadhafi's army camps, there was shooting from heavy machine guns," Muftah said. "They were firing mortars. You could hear the mortars from five kilometers away."

"It was a real massacre," said the doctor, Brakiah. She said at least 260 dead had been brought to three hospitals since the uprising erupted.

Human Rights Watch put the death toll at 173.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was "gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya. We are working to ascertain the facts, but we have received multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in several days of unrest."

"We have raised to a number of Libyan officials, including Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, our strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators," Crowley said in a statement. "We reiterated to Libyan officials the importance of universal rights, including freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Libyan officials have stated their commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest. We call upon the Libyan government uphold that commitment."

In Iran, thousands responded to opposition leaders' calls to take to the streets to mark a week since two protesters were killed in demonstrations staged to support the uprisings that drove former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power.

Demonstrators clashed with security forces on Valiasr Street, the capital's main thoroughfare, and other areas parts of the city, the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said, quoting telephone interviews with witnesses.

Large deployments of police, some mounted on motorbikes, charged the protesters at Tehran's Enghelab Square, Valiasr Street and other major intersections, a witness said.

In a video posted on an Iranian blogger's Facebook site, thousands of protesters are heard shouting "Mubarak, Ben Ali, it's time for Seyed Ali," a call for the ouster of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Press TV, the state-run English-language satellite news channel, reported that Faezah Hashemi, the daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the government's leading critic within the clerical leadership, was briefly detained by police during the protest but was later released.

The human rights group and posts by Iranian bloggers also spoke of clashes in the cities of Shiraz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Rasht.

The protests were staged in defiance of government warnings, with a state news service claiming that protesters were in danger of being shot by armed infiltrators.

In Bahrain's capital of Manama, protesters enjoyed their most festive day Sunday, setting up tents in Pearl Square.

Over the square's statue of a giant pearl, youngsters flew several kites. A third of the square was filled with women, many carrying babies in the arms, others waving the Bahraini flag. Men smoked waterpipes as various activists took a microphone to lead the protesters in chants.

But worries about what was next lurked even as protesters celebrated retaking the square a day earlier, after a withdrawal of government forces and the delegation of U.S.-backed King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa's son to begin reconciliation talks.

Opposition leaders said they are not convinced the ruling dynasty is serious about negotiations and thinks it only wants to reduce international pressure to compromise. So far, there have been no direct talks, opposition leaders said.

"They have known about our demands for the last 10 years," said Ebrahim Sharif, 43, the longtime leader of the National Democratic Action Society, a secular group.

The opposition also has to sort out its own platform as well.

What began as a call for a constitutional monarchy to replace the current absolute monarchy turned into demands for the end to the monarchy altogether after the attacks on the protesters by government forces.

"People are approaching us and coming with ideas," Sharif said. "We need to reach consensus amongst the opposition."

In Yemen, hundreds of students gathered Sunday for an eighth day of rallies against Saleh. Over the weekend, at least one protester was killed and seven were injured in clashes with supporters of, according to news reports.

In Algeria, riot police reportedly stopped 500 protesters who'd staged a march through the capital's city center.

The protests also spread to Iraq, where Kurds and Arabs took to the streets to demand better services, human rights, investigations into government corruption and other political or economic changes.

———

(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau on the World Wide Web at www.mcclatchydc.com.

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