CAIRO — Libyan protesters seeking to oust longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi defied a crackdown and took to the streets in four cities Thursday on what activists have dubbed a "day of rage," amid reports that at least 14 demonstrators have been killed in clashes with pro-government forces.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Libyan internal security forces also have arrested at least 14 people. Hundreds of pro-government demonstrators also rallied in the capital, Tripoli, blocking traffic in some areas, witnesses said.
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An opposition website and an anti-Gadhafi activist said unrest broke out during marches in four Libyan cities Thursday. Organizers were using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to call for nationwide demonstrations.
"Today the Libyans broke the barrier or fear, it is a new dawn," said Faiz Jibril, an opposition leader in exile.
Gadhafi's government has moved quickly to try to stop Libyans from joining the wave of uprisings in the Middle East that have ousted the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. It has proposed the doubling of government employees' salaries and released 110 suspected Islamic militants who oppose him — tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab regimes facing recent mass protests.
The official news agency JANA also reported that thousands of Gadhafi's supporters planned a rally later Thursday in Tripoli as well as demonstrations in other cities to express "eternal unity with the brother leader of the revolution," as the leader is known.
Witnesses in the capital said many government supporters were raising Libyan flags from their cars and chanting slogans in favor of Gadhafi. They said it was otherwise business as usual in the capital and stores remained open.
Protests already have turned violent.
Opposition website Libya Al-Youm said four protesters were slain by snipers from the Internal Security Forces in the eastern city of Beyida, which had protests Wednesday and Thursday. It's not clear when the protesters were killed. The website also said there was a demonstration Thursday in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.
Switzerland-based Libyan activist Fathi al-Warfali said 11 protesters
were killed in Beyida on Wednesday night, and scores were wounded.
Warfali, head of the Libyan Committee for Truth and Justice, said two
more people were killed in another city, Zentana, on Thursday while one
protester was killed in Rijban, a town about 75 miles (120 kilometers)
southwest of Tripoli.
A video provided by al-Warfali of the scene in Zentana showed marchers
chanting and holding a banner that read "Down with Gadhafi. Down with
The Libyan government maintains tight control over the media and the reports couldn't be independently confirmed.