Arab world unrest spreads, scalds China (Roundup)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TRIPOLI/MANAMA/BEIJING - Defiant anti-government protests continued to rock the Arab world Sunday, with the toll in Libya topping 100, while it spread to Morocco and for the first time, China too witnessed demonstrators gathering in at least two major cities.

Protesters took to the streets in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai Sunday, inspired by the popular unrest that has swept Egypt and other Arab countries, DPA reported.

Police promptly dispersed crowds of several hundred people in Beijing and Shanghai, said Xinhua news agency.

Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said that more than 100 Chinese activists have been placed under house arrest or are in police custody in the two cities.

The gathering was in response to a call for a “Jasmine Revolution” in 13 Chinese cities issued over the internet. The unrest that led to Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster in January is referred to as the Jasmine Revolution. However, information has filtered out about only two cities.

Sunday continued to be tense in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, that a day earlier saw the deaths of at least 15 people who were shot dead while attending the funeral of anti-government protesters.

The toll in unrest against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi has now crossed 100.

People in Benghazi have taken to the streets to demand an end to the rule of 68-year-old Gaddafi, who has ruled the country ever since he took over the reins in a coup Sep 1, 1969.

The protesters in Libya have been emboldened by successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned Feb 11.

Ahmed, a Libyan businessman who resides in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera that hospitals were running out of blood as they were overwhelmed with the number of the injured following the crackdown by security forces Saturday.

“It’s a big, big massacre. We’ve never heard of anything like this before. It’s horrible,” he was quoted as saying.

Morocco prepared to witness protests for the first time Sunday with a youth movement vowing to go ahead with its plans for staging peaceful nationwide protests.

Citing Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV, Xinhua reported that the movement in Morocco called for the protests on social networking website Facebook, inspired by pro-democracy protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

“Sunday is the genuine start for our struggle and there is no pull-out of it whatever rumours are being circulated,” the Feb 20 Movement for Change said in a statement.

The outlawed Islamist Justice and Charity, reportedly Morocco’s biggest opposition force, and some leftist groups said they would take part in the rally.

In Algeria, several people were injured when police used batons to break up a pro-democracy rally in capital Algiers.

Algerian police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, wove their way through the crowd of about 50 opposition supporters in central Algiers Saturday, banging their shields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowing through the planned march route, Al Jazeera reported.

The gathering, organised by the Co-ordination for Democratic Change in Algeria (CNCD), comes a week after a similar protest.

In Bahrain, thousands of anti-government protesters camped out in Manama’s Pearl Square, as opposition parties are expected to hold talks with the regime of Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Demonstrators say they will stay at the square until the regime collapses, Iran’s Press TV reported Sunday.

Yemen witnessed six more deaths in clashes between government supporters and pro-democracy protesters who are demanding the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Four people died during protests in the southern port city of Aden Saturday, and a student was killed in the city of Taiz, Press TV reported Sunday.

Saturday was the ninth consecutive day that demonstrators had called for the ouster of Saleh.

Yemenis are demanding that Saleh step down after 32 years of autocratic rule.

The Syrian government, apparently fearing that the regional uprisings in the Middle East would have domestic repercussions, started giving out cash payments to thousands of poor people in an effort to tackle the high levels of poverty.

Opposition groups have been calling on Syrians to protest what they call the “oppressive regime” of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

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