Unrest spreads in Arab world, scalds China (Intro Roundup)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TRIPOLI/MANAMA/SANA’A/AMMAN/BEIJING - The Arab world continued to be rocked by defiant anti-government protests Sunday, with the toll in Libya said to cross 200. The stir also 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 both cities, 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 over in the internet in 13 Chinese cities for a “Jasmine Revolution”, referring to the January unrest that led to Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster. 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.

More than 200 people have been killed over the past two days, a doctor in Benghazi told Al Jazeera TV.

Ali Belqasem said that bodies showed they were either shoot 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.

Emboldened by successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, people in Benghazi have taken to the streets to demand an end to the rule of 68-year-old Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled the country ever since he took over the reins in a coup Sep 1, 1969.

Ahmed, a businessman 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.

In Morocco, a large number of protesters gathered Sunday for the first time 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.

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, seeing demands for ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, witnessed seven more deaths, including a policeman, in clashes between government supporters and pro-democracy protesters.

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. Anti-government protesters armed with rifles Sunday shot dead a police officer in Yemen’s southern region of Aden, Xinhua reported, quoting the police.

Saturday was the ninth consecutive day that demonstrators had called for the ouster of Saleh, after 32 years of autocratic rule.

Saleh Sunday offered to open a dialogue with the opposition, declaring in a speech to businessmen and local politicians that he was ready to talk about all “legitimate demands”.

Earlier in a speech on national television, Saleh renewed his call for the opposition coalition to take part in a national dialogue that will stave off the chaos.

Jordanian King Abdullah II pledged to pursue swift and effective reforms in a rare meeting with personnel of the country’s three branches of government in Amman.

He also warned officials against hiding behind him and said he would no longer accept ministers blaming their actions on their superiors.

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 President Bashar al Assad.

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