HRW: Libya security forces kill 84 in three days

AFP, Saturday 19 Feb 2011

Libyan security forces killed at least 84 people over three days of protests, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday, citing telephone interviews with local hospital staff and witnesses.

"Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the eastern Libyan cities of Benghazi, Baida, Ajdabiya, Zawiya and Derna on 18 February 2011, following violent attacks against peaceful protests the day before that killed 20 people in Benghazi, 23 in Baida, three in Ajdabiya, and three in Derna," the New York-based watchdog said.

"Hospital sources told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on 18 February , almost all with live ammunition."

The watchdog's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Joe Stork, called on the Libyan authorities to respect the right of free assembly.

"Muammar Gaddafi's security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability," he said.

The deadliest violence on Friday hit Benghazi where witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces wearing "distinctive yellow uniforms" shot at demonstrators who had gathered for the funeral of 20 people killed earlier.

By late Friday, Al-Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi had received the bodies of 35 killed that day, with the deaths caused by gunshot wounds to the chest, neck and head, according to a senior hospital official cited by the rights watchdog.

"We put out a call to all the doctors in Benghazi to come to the hospital and for everyone to contribute blood because I've never seen anything like this before," the official told Human Rights Watch.

Witnesses told the rights watchdog that after the February 18 shootings, protesters in Benghazi continued on to the courthouse and gathered there throughout the evening, the crowd swelling to thousands.

"Libyan authorities should allow peaceful protesters to have their say," Stork said.

Gaddafi has ruled Libya since 1969 and is the Arab world's longest-serving ruler. The state apparatus enforces several media restrictions, which seems to make social network users even more eager on distributing information related to the uprising. 

Some Twitter updates called for more international and media attention to the country while others stated its dire need for medical supplies and assitance. 


At least five cities of eastern Libya have seen protests and clashes in recent days. In one of them, Baida, a hospital official said Friday that the bodies of at least 23 protesters slain over the past 48 hours were at his facility, which was treating about 500 wounded — some in the parking lot for lack of beds.

Forces from the military's elite Khamis Brigade moved into Benghazi, Baida and several other cities, residents said. They were accompanied by militias that seemed to include foreign mercenaries, they added. Several witnesses reported French-speaking fighters, believed to be Tunisians or sub-Saharan Africans, among militiamen wearing blue uniforms and yellow helmets.

The Khamis Brigade is led by Gaddafi's youngest son Khamis Gaddafi, and US diplomats in leaked memos have called it "the most well-trained and well-equipped force in the Libyan military." The witnesses' reports that it had been deployed could not be independently confirmed.

Internet was also cut off in Libya in the early hours of the morning Saturday, reported the US-based Arbor Networks security company, which detected a total cessation of online traffic in the North African country just after 2 am local time according to data from 30 Internet providers.

In effort to combat its own anti-government protests in January, the Egyptian government also cut off the Internet for several days, though it did not quell the uprising that eventually brought down the president.

Libya is oil-rich, but the gap between its haves and have-nots is wide, and the protests have flared hardest in the eastern parts of the country, the site of anti-government agitation in the past.

The Central Intelligence Agency estimates about one-third of Libyans live in poverty, and US diplomats have said in newly leaked memos that Gaddafi's regime seems to neglect the east intentionally, letting unemployment and poverty rise to weaken opponents there.

Information is tightly controlled in Libya, where journalists cannot work freely and many citizens fear the powerful security and intelligence services.

The government made an apparent gesture aimed at easing protests. The news website Quryna, which has ties to Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi, another of the leader's sons, said Friday that the country's national congress has halted its session indefinitely and said many state executives will be replaced when it returns.

In addition to replacing top officials, it will endorse reforms to decentralize and restructure the government, it said.

There have been few anti-government protests in the capital Tripoli, in the west of the country, and instead the government has staged large pro-Gaddafi rallies.

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