beware, qaddafi. it's 6:15 am where you are. have a good day.
Monday, Feb 21, 2011
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA)
By Charles Levinson and Tahani Karrar-Lewsley
CAIRO -- Libyan security forces fired live ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades at demonstrators in the eastern city of Benghazi on Sunday, pressing a bloody crackdown on snowballing protests demanding the ouster of leader Moammar Gadhafi that has doubled the death toll to at least 173.
Protests consumed at least six other cities in eastern Libya, according to reports from residents and a warning from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. In many of the cities, residents said government security forces had withdrawn from the streets to their bases, ceding whole cities to protesters, at least for now.
Protests also sprung up on the outskirts of Libya's capital of Tripoli, according to residents in the city and opposition activists. Though they were quickly quashed by security forces, the spread of protests from the country's more isolated eastern half to Mr. Gadhafi's center of power was a sign that calls for Mr. Gadhafi's ouster appeared to be gaining momentum.
The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli warned in a statement of violent clashes between protesters and security forces in at least six other cities in eastern Libya.
There were widely varying casualty figures. Human Rights Watch said they had confirmed 173 deaths in protests so far. Those numbers were limited to confirmed deaths reported by hospitals and the real toll was likely much higher, according to Human Rights Watch's Heba Morayef and doctors at Libyan hospitals.
Libyan state TV broadcast images of burning buildings and blamed the "acts of sabotage and burning" on "foreign agents," echoing the attempts made by other Arab leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen to dismiss the unrest.
Residents said it was the first time government media had acknowledged the growing unrest, suggesting the violence was spreading to the point that the government had no choice but to address it directly.
Residents said they received text messages from the Libyana mobile network urging calm. "People and youth of Benghazi, the civilians and police killed are all the sons of Libya so stop what is happening and stop the bloodshed," the text read, according to residents.
Reports of the fiercest fighting came from the city of Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, which lies on the country's northeast coast, according to reports from people inside the country and Libyan activists monitoring the situation abroad.
Residents said government control of Benghazi and other cities in eastern Libya appeared to be slipping, at least for now, with police and army forces disappearing from the streets and retreating to their bases. Residents said tens of thousands of people had gathered to protests outside Benghazi's courthouse on Saturday.
They said parts of Benghazi had been consumed by full-fledged urban warfare between protesters and pro-government forces. Residents said pro-Gadhafi loyalists were firing rocket-propelled grenades at civilians and driving in cars randomly shooting down civilians.
"There are some criminals driving cars shooting at people, and they are using antitank weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades, the bullets are the size of my hand," said a Benghazi resident whose wife works as a doctor at a local hospital.
The Internet remained down in most of the country after the government shut down servers early Saturday, according to Renesys, an Internet access watchdog. Journalists were banned from entering the country or reporting on events, making it impossible to confirm reports.
Residents reached by telephone were gripped by fear, unwilling to give their names over the telephone for fear the government was monitoring calls and would arrest them for relaying details of the unrest to journalists outside the country.
A Libyan journalist in Tripoli said some journalists who had spoken with Arab television stations had been arrested within minutes of speaking on air.
Amid the information blackout, a sense of panic and mayhem in Benghazi was fueled by rumors sweeping the city, including unsubstantiated rumors that the government had poisoned the city's drinking supply and was flying planes full of mercenaries into the city.
It was unclear just how much real estate protesters controlled and how much remained in the hands of the government.
"Neither side has complete control of Benghazi," said a student in Benghazi who would identify himself only as Abdullah for fear of his safety.
Amateur video footage from Al Bayda, a smaller city east of Benghazi, showed thousands of chanting protesters demonstrating in front of the city's central mosque.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires