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25 killed in clashes at Libyan funeral, military camp

21 February, 2011

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BENGHAZI: New clashes between anti-government protesters security forces in Libya killed another 25 people on Sunday as protesters used an explosives-laden car and a tank to attack a military camp in Benghazi, witnesses reported.

The attack followed a clash between troops and marchers in a funeral procession in Libya’s second-largest city. Sunday’s violence left 25 people dead, according to a doctor at Benghazi’s Al Jalla Hospital, bringing the toll in the recent unrest to 209.

Thousands of mourners, some carrying coffins above their heads, crowded into Benghazi streets Sunday in a funeral procession honoring those killed Saturday. The clashes occurred as the procession passed by the Alfadeel Abu Omar military camp, where one man told CNN uniformed troops opened fire on the mourners.

The clashes escalated after the incident, centered around the military camp. Protesters packed at least one car with explosives Sunday and sent it crashing into a compound wall at the camp, eyewitnesses said. Security forces then fired on the protesters as they attempted to breach the camp.

On the camp’s southern side, meanwhile, protesters drove a tank from a nearby army base in another attempt to break in, witnesses said. They have also obtained other weapons, the protester said.

“The situation is very, very grim at the moment,” he told CNN. “What we have here can only be described as genocide.” Agencies add: Anti-regime protests spread closer to the Libyan capital on Sunday and new fighting erupted in the flashpoint city of Benghazi, as Human Rights Watch said it feared a catastrophe with more than 175 people dead in an iron-fisted crackdown.

Witnesses told AFP by telephone that security forces clashed with anti-regime protesters in the Mediterranean city of Misrata, 200 kilometres from Tripoli. Demonstrators were on the streets there to show support for residents of Benghazi, 1,000 kilometres from the capital, who have endured the brunt of a crackdown in eastern Libya, they said. The witnesses said Libyan security forces backed by “African mercenaries” had been shooting into the crowds “without discrimination.”

“Lawyers are demonstrating outside the Northern Benghazi court; there are thousands here. We have called it Tahrir Square Two,” lawyer Mughrabi said, referring to the Cairo square central to protests that brought down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Meanwhile, A group of “religious extremists” have taken hostage members of the security forces and civilians in a city of unrest-swept eastern Libya, a senior Libyan official said on Sunday.

“A group of religious extremists is holding hostage security elements and civilians, threatening to execute them unless a siege by security forces is lifted” in Al-Baida, the official told AFP, asking not to be named.

The group calls itself “Islamic Emirate of Barqa,” after the ancient name of a region of northwest Libya, he said. Justice Minister Mustafa Abdeljalil started negotiations late on Saturday for the hostage-takers to release their captives, he said. “But we will not negotiate over Libya’s integrity under any circumstances.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of Yemeni students demonstrated on Sunday outside the Sanaa university campus on the eighth straight day of anti-regime protests in the capital, an AFP correspondent reported.

Protesters chanted slogans demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 32 years, the correspondent said. Around 100 of Saleh’s supporters held a pro-government protest across the street from the campus while police set up a cordon to separate the two groups.

Pro- and anti-Saleh demonstrators have clashed violently over the past week in Sanaa with guns, batons and rocks with anti-regime protesters calling on the president to quit. Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim ruling family came under increased pressure to open in-depth negotiations with the Shiite-led opposition on Sunday, as protesters stayed camped out in the capital’s Pearl Square.

“The night passed off without any problems,” said a student who stayed up through Saturday night with dozens of other youngsters to guard the central square, giving his name as only Tahar.

The square has been the focal point of the demonstrations which have rocked the small but strategic Gulf kingdom since February 14. “We are frightened that the security forces will launch another surprise attack like they did on Thursday,” he said, referring to a night-time police raid to clear the square that killed four people.

The heir to the throne has been tasked by his father, King Hamad, with launching a wide-reaching dialogue with the opposition. But emboldened by a wave of Arab uprisings which have toppled the strongmen of Tunisia and Egypt since last month, the opposition has raised its stakes, demanding a “real constitutional monarchy” and the government’s resignation.

Meanwhile, Tunisian security forces fired in the air on Sunday in a vain attempt to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital calling for a new interim government, a Reuters witness said.

It was the second straight day of mass protests in the North African country’s main city, in defiance of a government ban on rallies, after a lull following the popular uprising last month, which overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

After weeks of relative calm, as many as 40,000 marchers gathered in front of the prime minister’s building shouting slogans such as “Leave!” and “We don’t want the friends of Ben Ali!” Others were demanding pay rises.

Security forces fired several times in the air, while two military helicopters circled low over the rally, the Reuters witness said. The protesters remained in place and there was no sign that anyone had been injured.

Meanwhile, several thousand people rallied in Moroccan cities on Sunday demanding political reform and limits on the powers of the king, the latest protests demanding change to have rocked the region.

Over 2,000 people took to the streets of the capital Rabat, 4,000 according to the organisers, shouting: “The people want change.”

In Casablanca, the North African nation’s biggest city, over 1,000 people came out demanding: “Freedom, dignity, justice,” an AFP correspondent reported.

Young Moroccans have called the kingdom-wide demonstrations demanding broad political reforms and gathered several thousand supporters on the social networking site Facebook.

Meanwhile, Djibouti authorities have “provisionally released” three top opposition leaders briefly detained after unprecedented protests demanding regime change, the state prosecutor said Sunday.

State television had announced the release of two of the arrested trio but it had said nothing of the third leader’s fate. “We have released them provisionally because we acknowledge that, in spite of their irresponsible behaviour, they are political party leaders and one of them is a member of parliament,” Djama Souleiman told AFP.

“We are continuing to investigate the extent to which they may have manipulated looters and masterminded acts of violence and vandalism,” he explained. The three are National Democratic Party Chairman Aden Robleh Awaleh, Djibouti Democratic Party Chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared, whose Union for Democratic Change organised a large protest on Friday.

Meanwhile, top US diplomats on Sunday condemned violent crackdowns on protesters in Libya and Bahrain but stopped short of calling for a change of government in countries facing a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Bahraini government should step up reform efforts rather than attacking peaceful protesters. “We’ve been very clear from the beginning that we do not want to see any violence. We deplore it. We think it is absolutely unacceptable,” Clinton told the ABC News program This Week, according to a transcript released by the network.

“We very much want to see the human rights of the people protected, including right to assemble, right to express themselves and we want to see reform,” Clinton said. Separately, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington was deeply concerned by reports that Libyan and Bahraini securrity forces have lashed out a pro-democracy activists.

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Rice rebutted accusations that the response of President Barack Obama’s administration to a wave of pro-democracy protests in the Middle East and North Africa has been inconsistent. “There’s no place for violence against peaceful protesters,” Rice said.

“What we’re encouraging Bahrain and other governments in the region to do is to recognize that this is a yearning for change and reform that is not going to go away, that it needs to be respected and that they need to get ahead of it by leading rather than being pushed.”

Protests have flared across the region as pro-democracy activists are emboldened by the overthrow of long-standing dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. In the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet’s naval base has helped America project military power across the Middle East and South Asia since 1958, thousands of anti-government protesters camped over Saturday night in a Manama square.

AFP adds: Clinton Sunday highlighted the need for the US government to use Twitter and other social media to connect with young people amid turbulent change in the Middle East and North Africa.

Following revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt fueled by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube exchanges, the US State Department set up Twitter accounts last week in Farsi, Arabic and other languages to get its message across.

“What we expect to do is to be communicating through the new social media with literally millions of people around the world because we want them to hear directly from us what our policies are,” Clinton said.

“But mostly we want to be in the mix with this incredible young, energetic population that is seeking the same rights to express themselves as young people in the United States seek,” she said.


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