Libya: Gadhafi's Forces Fire On Mourners At Funeral For Protesters In Benghazi Again

02/20/2011 09:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • The Huffington Post/AP

CAIRO (AP) — Libyan forces fired machine-guns at mourners marching in a funeral for anti-government protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi Sunday, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries loyal to longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi pummeled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry. A doctor at one city hospital said his morgue had at least 200 dead from six days of unrest.

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The doctor said his hospital, one of two in Libya's second-largest city, is out of supplies and cannot treat more than 70 wounded in similar attacks on mourners Saturday and other clashes.

The crackdown in oil-rich Libya is shaping up to be the most brutal repression of anti-government protests that began with uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The protests spread quickly around the region to Bahrain in the Gulf, impoverished Yemen, the North African neighbors of Tunisia – Libya, Algeria, Morocco – and outside the Middle East to places including the East African nation of Djibouti and even China.

Libya's rebellion by those frustrated with Gadhafi's more than 40 years of authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen cities. Benghazi has been at the center of unrest.

But getting reliable information about the chaotic situation is difficult. Journalists cannot work freely. Information about the uprising has come through telephone interviews, along with videos and messages posted online, and through opposition activists in exile.

Before Saturday's violence, Human Rights Watch estimated at least 84 people had been killed.

Jamal Eddin Mohammed, a 53-year old resident of Benghazi, said thousands marched Sunday toward the city's cemetery to bury at least a dozen protesters. They feared more clashes with the government when they passed by Gadhafi's residential palace and the regime's local security headquarters.

"Everything is behind that (Gadhafi) compound; hidden behind wall after wall. The doors open and close and soldiers and tanks just come out, always as a surprise, and mostly after dark," he told The Associated Press by telephone.

A man shot in the leg Sunday said marchers were carrying coffins to a cemetery and were passing by the compound when security forces fired in the air and then opened up on the crowd.

The latest violence in Benghazi followed the same pattern as the crackdown on Saturday, when witnesses said forces loyal to Gadhafi attacked mourners at a funeral for anti-government protesters. They were burying 35 marchers who were slain Friday by government forces.

The doctor at a Benghazi hospital said at least one person was killed by gunshots during the funeral march, and 14 were injured, including five in serious condition. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, as did several other witnesses in Libya. He said some of the latest casualties were hit by machine gun fire.

On Saturday, witnesses told The Associated Press a mix of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists assaulted demonstrators in Benghazi with knives, assault rifles and other heavy weapons.

On Sunday, defiant mourners chanted: "The people demand the removal of the regime," which became a mantra for protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.

The U.S.-based Arbor Networks reported another Internet service outage in Libya just before midnight Saturday night. The company says online traffic ceased in Libya about 2 a.m. Saturday, was restored at reduced levels several hours later, only to be cut off again that night.

People in Libya also said they can no longer make telephone calls on their land lines.

Abdullah said smaller protests were staged Saturday night on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli, a stronghold of support for Gadhafi, but demonstrators were quickly dispersed by security men. Besides Tripoli and Benghazi, the U.S. State Department in a travel warning to American citizens listed five other cities that have seen demonstrations.

Supporters of the Libyan uprising also demonstrated in Switzerland and in Washington on Saturday, waving flags and burning Gadhafi's photo.

03/11/2011 6:31 PM EST

U.S. Extends Sanctions On Libya

Reports the AP:

The Obama administration extended its Libya sanctions to more Gadhafi family members and close advisers on Thursday, blacklisting business with the Libyan leader's wife, four of his children and his chief of military intelligence.

The Treasury Department froze the assets of nine Libyans in all as part of the strategy to peel off Moammar Gadhafi's closest advisers while punishing those who remain loyal to the regime even as it commits human rights violations.

The sanctions come on top of those previously announced by the administration, which accounted for $32 billion in Libyan government assets blocked in the United States.

03/11/2011 5:33 PM EST

Sarkozy Calls For Air Strikes If Gaddafi Attacks Civilians

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for airstrikes against Gaddafi forces if the leader attacks civilians. According to the Guardian:

Nicolas Sarkozy has called for targeted air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's regime if his forces use chemical weapons or launch air strikes against civilians.

As the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives in Libya, the French president told an emergency EU summit in Brussels that air strikes may soon be justified.

"The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters," Sarkozy said. The French president qualified his remarks by saying he had many reservations about military intervention in Libya "because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs".

03/11/2011 5:06 PM EST

Dutch Helicopter Crew Freed

A Dutch helicopter crew taken captive in Libya has been freed and sent to Greece. The BBC is reporting:

The two men and one woman arrived in Athens on a Greek military transport plane hours after a son of Muammar Gaddafi announced their release.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said Libya would hold on to the crew's Lynx helicopter.

The woman pilot, Yvonne Niersman, took part in a mission last year to free a German ship from Somali pirates.

Ms Niersman and her fellow crew members were captured in Libya after flying in from the Dutch warship Tromp, anchored off the coast.

Read the entire report here.

03/11/2011 4:43 PM EST

McCain Praises Moroccan King

Senator John McCain praised Morocco's King Mohammed VI for his pledge to introduce democratic reforms. According to the AFP:

"This new reform agenda builds on the king's long-standing commitment to lead Morocco to a future of reform and modernization, and it could ensure that the Kingdom of Morocco will continue to stand as a positive example to governments across the Middle East and North Africa," said McCain.

03/11/2011 3:40 PM EST

Gaddafi Offers Amnesty To Rebels

Reuters is reporting that Gaddafi is now offering to offer amnesty to those rebels who lay own arms.

03/11/2011 3:28 PM EST

2 Protesters Killed In Tunisia

The AP reports:

Tunisia's Interior Ministry says a new eruption of violence between police and protesters has killed two people and injured 20.

The ministry says on its Facebook page that police fired tear gas and demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs.

The statement says two protesters were killed in the incident in Metlaoui, a mining town in the center of the Mediterranean country.

The violence comes as Tunisia's interim government is trying to restore stability after deadly protests that drove out longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. That prompted uprisings around the Arab world.

03/11/2011 2:39 PM EST

Berlusconi Says Hardline With Gaddafi A Mistake

Berlusconi is saying that the West may have made a mistake by taking a hardline against Gaddafi, which may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner. Reports Reuters:

The hardline stance taken by major powers against Muammar Gaddafi may have backed the Libyan leader into a corner and prevented a quiet exit, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday. Speaking after a special meeting of EU leaders, Berlusconi, one of Gaddafi's closest friends in Europe until the current upheaval, said the chances of persuading him to give up power voluntarily now appeared to have disappeared.

"Once someone put forward the idea of bringing Gaddafi before the International Criminal Court, I think the idea of staying in power became entrenched with him and I don't think anyone can make him change his mind," he told reporters.

Read the entire report here.

03/11/2011 2:16 PM EST

Who Are The Libyan Rebels?

The AP is reporting that the rebels fighting Gaddafi forces are amateurs, but deeply committed to the cause:

Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya since long before the 25-year-old was born, and he hates the dictator enough to risk his life by fighting for the ragtag rebel force battling government troops along a desolate highway on the North African country's Mediterranean coast.

"I will fight forever. I will die or win, like Omar Mukhtar," said Salem, invoking the legendary Libyan hero who fought Italian occupiers in the 1930s, was ultimately executed, and has become a symbol for the new revolutionaries.

The front-line force trying to advance toward Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital Tripoli is surprisingly small. Not counting supporters who bolster them in the towns along their path, it is estimated at 1,500 at most — Libyans from all walks of life, from students and coffeeshop owners to businessmen who picked up whatever weapons they could and joined the fight. No one seems to know their full size, and they could be picking up new members all the time.

Its ramshackle nature explains the dramatic lurches the fighting has taken. Last week, they took control over a stretch of Mediterranean coastal land that included major oil installations in the ports of Brega and Ras Lanouf. They charged enthusiastically further west, reaching within a few dozen miles of Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a bastion of support for the leader of 41 years.

03/11/2011 1:03 PM EST

Gaddafi Forces Show Signs Of Victory

Reports the AP:

Moammar Gadhafi's regime has gained momentum with the capture of a key city near Tripoli after days of fierce fighting with rebels.

The battle for Zawiya has emerged as a key test in the government's ability to maintain its hold on the Libyan capital and surrounding areas.

The government had claimed victory on Wednesday, but the rebels who are seeking to oust Gadhafi said fighting was ongoing.

An Associated Press reporter, who was escorted with other journalists into the city on Friday, says the main square that had been the center of resistance is clearly in government control.

03/11/2011 12:47 PM EST

Obama On Libya

Obama noted all of the sanctions and property seizures that have already been implemented against Gaddafi, saying, "Across the board, we are tightening the noose on Gaddafi." He says that NATO is discussing potential military actions in Libya, including a no-fly zone, and will meet on Tuesday. He said that a position will be created for a liaison to speak with Libyan opposition groups. He said that the international community had moved quickly to isolate Gaddafi.

Obama said that no options have been taken off the table so far. In response to a question about whether it would ever be acceptable to the U.S. for Gaddafi to stay in power, Obama stated that "it is in the U.S.' interest and the interest of the Libyan people for Gaddafi to leave." He added, however, that when making a decision to engage militarily, he would weigh the "costs and benefits."