Death toll rising in Libyan unrest

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BENGHAZI/CAIRO - Reports out of Libya estimate that several dozen more people were killed Saturday during the fourth day of protests against the regime of leader Muammer Gaddafi.

The numbers of dead — which range from 15 to 25 to 200 — appeared to be in addition to the 84 people confirmed dead by Friday by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said its figure was based on phone interviews with hospital staff and witnesses.

Most of the victims died of gun wounds, HRW said.

Protests centered on the northeastern city of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city after the capital Tripoli. The northern coastal city of Misurata was also the scene of demonstrations, the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition (NCLO) said.

Emboldened by successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of Libyans have been calling for the ouster of Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years.

Journalists have been barred from travelling to the heart of the protests in the northeastern Libyan town of Benghazi, and the Libyan government has reportedly cut off telephone sim cards and internet connections.

An eyewitness in an unnamed town in Libya told CNN early Sunday via the internet Skype system that a friend called him from a hospital and said the facility had received 200 dead bodies Saturday.

Earlier, a woman reached Al Jazeera with a report that military officers were shooting from the trees at demonstrators in Benghazi and that 25 people were killed, the bodies lying in front of her home.

The caller to CNN confirmed Al Jazeera reports that attackers drove by in cars and opened fire on demonstrators. He said his personal sim communication cards had been shut down, but someone had given him a “random card” in order to talk to CNN.

He said a personal friend had been killed.

“We are awaiting a massacre,” the woman told Al Jazeera. “But we are staying. First we wanted rights. Now we want removal of the regime. We cannot go back anymore.”

An eyewitness in Benghazi, where the protests began Wednesday, told DPA that soldiers shot live rounds of munitions and large calibre tank weapons at the demonstrators and into residential buildings.

The soldiers were not Libyans but rather mercenaries from Mali, the eyewitness said.

Residents of Benghazi posted videos on the internet showing Libyan protesters defacing the bodies of men in uniform. The protesters said they had stormed buildings housing police and security units in several towns and cities to seize weapons.

Gaddafi, who has held power since 1969, has built a personality cult, protected by a special unit of his army led by his son Chamie. Politicalk parties are banned in Libya.

Outside Libya, supporters of the rebellion held their own protests. About 200 people demonstrated at the White House in Washington Saturday, challenging US President Barack Obama to help end recent violence in Libya, CNN reported.

In Geneva, protesters gathered outside the European headquarters of the UN, destroying photos of Gaddafi.

Libya, a major oil producer, has a population of about six million people.

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