‘Day of anger’ sees Libyan protesters gunned down

LIBYAN security forces killed at least 30 people in a violent crackdown on anti-regime demonstrations during a “Day of Anger” against strongman Muammar Gaddafi, Human Rights Watch reported yesterday.

The New York-based group, citing witnesses, said 24 protesters had been killed and scores injured during assaults on protests in Benghazi and al-Baida.

“The authorities should cease the use of lethal force unless absolutely necessary to protect lives and open an independent investigation into the lethal shootings,” Human Rights Watch said.

Geneva-based Human Rights Solidarity earlier said rooftop snipers in al-Baida, a town of 200,000 inhabitants east of Benghazi, had killed 13 protesters and wounded dozens of others.

The Quryna newspaper, close to Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, traced the al-Baida unrest to a police shutdown of local shops that soon escalated.

Quryna reported that protesters had burnt police cars and that a number of young civilians had been killed.

Video clips posted online, apparently taken on mobile phones in al-Baida, showed a sizeable demonstration, with several hundred young protesters trying to set fire to a building, possibly a police station, and chanting “The people want the fall of the regime”. Clips also showed protesters, predominantly male, burning posters of Colonel Gaddafi or chanting “Down with the regime”.

The protests did not appear large enough to threaten Colonel Gaddafi’s 41-year rule – but the fact that they happened at all was remarkable in a police state where opposition is not tolerated and dissidents are routinely imprisoned.

The regime sent text messages warning that it “will confront anyone in any square or avenue in our beloved country”. Its revolutionary committees vowed not to allow protesters to “plunder the achievements of the people and threaten the safety of citizens and the country’s stability”.

The only demonstration in Tripoli, the capital, was staged in its central Green Square by apparent supporters of Colonel Gaddafi who chanted “We sacrifice our blood and souls for you, our leader!” and waved his portrait.

Similar rallies were staged in other cities across Libya to express “eternal unity with the brother leader of the revolution”, the official news agency JANA reported.

The extent of the protests was hard to gauge in a country whose regime controls information.

One prominent Libyan author, Idris al-Mesmari, was arrested hours after a phone interview with al-Jazeera, the Arabic television station. Telephone connections to some cities went down, and there were reports of electricity supplies being cut.

State media largely ignored the protests to publicise the rallies in favour of Colonel Gaddafi and to show him opening a football stadium.

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