Libyan unrest toll tops 100 after mourners shot dead

Sunday, February 20, 2011

CAIRO/TRIPOLI/NEW DELHI - Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi continued to be tense Sunday, a day after at least 15 people attending the funeral of anti-government protesters were shot dead by security forces, taking the toll in unrest against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi to over 100.

Egyptians 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 bloodless coup Sep 1, 1969.

Libya, with a population of over six million, has one of the largest oil reserves in Africa.

The protesters in Libya have been emboldened by successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in January while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned Feb 11. There also have been anti-government demonstrations in the region - Yemen, Bahrain and Iran.

Violence escalated Saturday in Benghazi as security forces reportedly opened fire at a funeral, leaving at least 15 people and scores injured.

The victims were mourning the deaths of protesters who had been killed during anti-government demonstrations during the past week, witnesses said, bringing the toll to over 100 in six days of unrest, Al Jazeera cited opposition groups as saying.

Some media reports put the death toll in the Libyan unrest at 200.

Amid reports of protests being violently put down in Libya, India Sunday assured that all Indians are safe in that country.

“Indians in Libya safe. Embassy in touch with Indians and Indian companies throughout Libya,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao posted on her twitter account Sunday morning.

According to Ministry of External Affairs, there are about 18,000 Indians in Libya.

DPA reported that 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.

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.

Mariam, a doctor who spoke to Al Jazeera from a hospital in Benghazi, said: “It’s a massacre here. The military is shooting at all the protesters with live bullets, I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. The military forces are everywhere, even from the hospital I work, we are not safe. There was an 8-year-old boy who died the other day from a gunshot to the head - what did he do to deserve this?”

Ahmed, another Benghazi resident, said: “Right now, the situation is even worse than earlier today. Shooting is going until now. And at a nearby hospital, at least 150 people have been admitted, those injured and dead…the military is all over the place.”

The uprising in Libya has largely been in the eastern cities of Benghazi, Bayda and Tobruk. But a media report said the protests have begun to spread to the country’s west.

The internet service has also been cut off.

Protests in the country began Feb 14, and barely three days later tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators surged out into the streets in what organisers called a “day of rage”.

Sir Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Libya, told the Independent that “Gaddafi will find it hard to make concessions in order to survive. I think the attitude of the Libyan regime is that it’s all or nothing.”

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