Unconfirmed Libya death toll reaches 200, protests continue

Sunday, February 20, 2011

CAIRO/BENGHAZI - Anti-government protests continued Sunday in Libya for the sixth straight day, with the flashpoint city of Benghazi in the north east reporting the highest death toll.

With journalists barred from travelling to Benghazi, and internet and mobile phone connections reportedly cut by the government, obtaining reliable information about the situation in the country ruled by Muammar Gaddafi since 1969 is difficult.

But more than 200 people have been killed over the past two days, a doctor in Benghazi, the country’s second city, told Al Jazeera TV.

Ali Belqasem told the Doha-based channel that bodies showed they were either shot in the head or chest. “All young, all unarmed,” said Belqasem.

There was no confirmed reports about protests in the city, whilst activists said in online posts that they have also lost all contact with people in Benghazi.

The London-based news website Libya al-Youm, which put the death toll in Banghazi at 208, said the army had used rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weapons on protesters.

One eyewitness told the DPA that soldiers were not Libyans but rather mercenaries from Mali.

Demonstrations against the regime of Gaddafi began Tuesday evening in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city after the capital Tripoli.

The northern coastal city of Misurata, and Al Bayda town, were also the scene of demonstrations.

Emboldened by the 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.

Dozens of people were arrested in Libya over the past few days, the official news agency reported late Saturday.

They are accused of belonging to a “foreign network” and seeking to destabilise the country and the people’s national unity.

The group included Tunisian, Egyptian, Sudanese, Turkish, Palestinian and Syrian citizens, the agency quoted sources close to the investigation as saying.

Meanwhile, neither Moamer Gaddafi nor his family will leave Libya, the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper Sunday quoted sources within the clan as saying.

“He insists on dying on Libyan land,” the sources said, adding that all members of Gaddafi’s family who were living abroad came back to the country last Thursday.

State TV al-Jamahiriya reported that pro-Gaddafi marches continue in the country, and showed footage of hundreds cheering and carrying his pictures.

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

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