Libyan protesters defiant, 500 feared dead (Second Lead)

Friday, February 25, 2011

CAIRO/TRIPOLI - Libyan protesters prepared for a “one-million march” Friday as the main hospital in the second largest city of Benghazi reported 500 deaths in 11 days of protests that threaten to topple long-time ruler Muammer Gaddafi.

Arab media reported that Libyan military planes fired at demonstrators marching towards Gaddafi’s compound in capital Tripoli.

The hospital in Benghazi, on the northeastern coast, said 500 people had been killed in the last 11 days of protests, DPA reported. Witnesses said 1,300 had been wounded.

Estimates by international groups and diplomats of the number of

people killed by Gaddafi’s security forces range from 600 to 2,000.

Several Libyan diplomats and security officials have handed in their resignations and sided with the protesters, further weakening Gaddafi, who has ruled the country since 1969.

The latest defector was Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, Gaddafi’s cousin and

one of his top security aides, Al Arabiya reported.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Benghazi, where

they have successfully pushed out Gaddafi loyalists, DPA reported.

Several other eastern cities have also come under the control of anti-government demonstrators, media reports said.

Libyans received text messages on mobile phones saying the anti-Gaddafi protests were forbidden and urging them not to watch Al Jazeera, the opposition Libya al-Youm website reported.

In Bayda, also in the east, rebels killed at least 200 mercenaries, a policeman said, claiming that the regime had offered the foreigners 12,000 dollars for every protester they killed, DPA reported.

Demonstrators from the eastern cities were heading towards Tripoli

in order to “liberate” it from Gaddafi’s rule, activists said.

Residents in the western cities of Misurata and al-Zawiya were inching closer to ousting Gaddafi’s security forces. If those two cities are overrun by protesters, Tripoli will likely follow.

An Egyptian in Misurata told DPA that the situation there was critical. No foreigners were able to leave the city and gunfire was heard in the streets, he said.

Troops loyal to Gaddafi shot peaceful protesters in the town of al-Zawiya Thursday, killing at least 100, Al Jazeera reported, citing witnesses.

There were fears that Gaddafi may resort to using biological and chemical weapons as he loses control of ever larger parts of the country, a news report said.

Gaddafi Thursday blamed terrorist network al-Qaeda for the protests that are threatening to unravel his four decades of grip on the country.

Meanwhile, leading world powers expressed outrage Friday over the brutal crackdown on the opposition in Libya, with countries calling for an international investigation into abuses.

“This bloodshed is unacceptable,” US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain

Donahoe told a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, charging that Libya was “attacking its population”.

“Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population

may amount to crimes against humanity,” said Navi Pillay, the UN high

commissioner for human rights.

Gaddafi grabbed control of Libya in a coup in 1969 and is the longest-serving Arab leader.

Several Western countries are pushing for Libya to be removed from the Security Council, which would require a two-thirds majority at the General

Assembly in New York.

Saudi Arabia condemned the attacks on innocent civilians and called on Libyan authorities to end all acts of violence. Jordan demanded justice for the victims of abuses.

Qatar also criticized the “grave violation of human rights” and urged an immediate end to the crackdown.

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