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300 protesters killed in Libya

Last updated: 20 February, 2011
Cairo, Feb 20, AP and NYT: 0:35 IST

Forces fire on mourners in repeat of Saturdays crackdown

Libyan security forces opened fire on mourners at a funeral for anti-government protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi again on Sunday, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries loyal to longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi pummelled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry as well as knives.

A demonstrator holds a picture of Libyan leader Moamer Gadhafi as another raises a sign saying “leave, leave” during a protest by Egyptians and Libyans living in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria in support of Libyan demonstrators calling for Gadhafi's ouster on Sunday. AFPLibyan protesters defied a fierce crackdown by Gadhafi’s regime, returning on Sunday to a square outside a court building in the flashpoint city of Benghazi to demand the overthrow of Gadhafi.

Witnesses told “The Associated Press” that hundreds of demonstrators gathered early morning at the court building after a day of bloodshed, during which Libyan forces opened fire on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters.

In the hours after that attack, a medical official said at least 15 people were killed.

But Mohammed Abdullah, a Dubai-based member of the Libyan Salvation Front, said on Sunday that the toll could be much higher. The Libyan Salvation Front member quoted hospital officials in Benghazi saying the death toll might have reached 300 or more. The crackdown in Libya is shaping up to be the most brutal repression of the anti-government protests that began with uprisings that toppled the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

The protests then spread quickly around the region to Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and outside the West Asia to places including the East African nation of Djibouti and even China.

Repeat pattern

The latest violence in the flashpoint city of Benghazi followed the same pattern as the crackdown on Saturday, when witnesses said forces loyal to Gadhafi attacked mourners at a funeral for anti-government protesters.

The doctor at a Benghazi hospital said at least one person was killed by gunshots during the funeral march, and 14 were injured, including five in serious condition.
The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

A man shot in the leg on Sunday said marchers were carrying coffins to a cemetery when they passed a military compound in Libya’s second-largest city. The man said security forces fired in the air and then opened up on the crowd. The scope of the crackdown was almost impossible to verify in an isolated country that remains largely off limits to foreign journalists and, as part of the government’s efforts to squelch the protests, has been periodically cut off from the Internet.

With Internet and telephone outages, and reports of security forces visiting the homes of those who spoke with foreign journalists, Libyans scrambled on Sunday morning to broadcast news of the clashes taking place. By Sunday, Fathi Terbil, a lawyer and critic of the Qaddafi government whose brief arrest last week helped set off the violence, had set up a live video broadcast.

It appeared to emanate from the roof of the courthouse in Benghazi, overlooking the public square that Libyans said they have begun to refer to as their Tahrir Square, after the site in Cairo where Egyptians gathered to challenge their dictator.

In London, Foreign Minister William Hague said that he had reports that heavy weapons fire and sniper units were being used against protests, organized in a half-dozen cities or more.

Earlier in the day, thousands returned to the courthouse in Benghazi. Idris Ahmed al-Agha, a writer reached by telephone, said the crowd had grown to more than 20,000 by midday — an account confirmed by others.

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