84 killed in three day Libyan protests

Saturday 19 February 2011 21.09
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Libya - Protests met with fierce police crackdown
Libya - Protests met with fierce police crackdown
Muammar Gaddafi - Four decades in power
Muammar Gaddafi - Four decades in power

Human rights organisations say at least 84 people have been shot by security forces in Libya in the past three days.

Security forces in Libya's second city, Benghazi, fired in the air to disperse a crowd mourning protesters killed in the worst unrest of Muammar Gaddafi's four decades in power.

Human Rights Watch said 35 people were killed in the city late yesterday in the worst night of violence since protests started this week to try to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

The New York-based watchdog said its tally for the number of dead was now 84 after three days of violence centred on the restive region around Benghazi, 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.

Protests against Muammar Gaddafi's rule this week, inspired by uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, were met with a fierce crackdown, but restrictions on media have made it difficult to establish the full extent of the violence.

Tight government control and media restrictions have limited the amount of information emerging about the unrest.

Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera said its signal was being jammed on several frequencies and its website had been blocked in Libya.

Opposition activists said protesters fought troops for control of the nearby town of Al Bayda, scene of some of the worst violence over the past two days, where townspeople said they were burying 14 people who were killed in earlier clashes.

Residents said that last night the streets were calm but there were conflicting accounts about whether opposition activists or security forces were in control of the town.

The unrest though was not on a national scale with most protests confined to the east around Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has traditionally been weak.

There were no reliable reports of major protests elsewhere, and state media said there had been pro-Gaddafi rallies in the capital.

Libya-watchers say an Egypt-style nationwide revolt is unlikely because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems, and is still respected in much of the country.

Noman Benotman, a former dissident Islamist, told Reuters the government was talking to tribal leaders in Benghazi to try to defuse tensions. But he said if the authorities decided to restore order by force it would be done 'toughly.'

Up to 40 Irish nationals are currently in Libya. Most of them are in the Tripoli region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is working with other EU representatives in Libya to try to arrange the evacuation of Irish nationals in Banghazi in Eastern Libya tomorrow.

A spokesman for the Department said tonight that the six Irish nationals who are working in Benghazi are currently safe and the department has advised them to stay where they are.

He said that at the moment, it was not possible to travel out of the city as the airport is closed and it was not safe to travel by road.

The Department has asked that people who have relatives or friends in Libya to let them know by registering on their website www.dfa.ie if they have not done so already.

However, the spokesman said they were confident that know the location of most Irish nationals in the country.