CAIRO — Security forces loyal to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi unleashed heavy gunfire Sunday on thousands marching in a rebellious eastern city, cutting down mourners trying to bury victims in a bloody cycle of violence that has killed more than 200 people in the fiercest crackdown on the uprisings in the Arab world.

Protests were even reported to have spread to downtown Tripoli and a coastal city only about 45 miles (about 70 kilometers) to the west of the capital. In Benghazi, site of the funeral clashes, pro-Gadhafi forces were chased from a presidential compound by other troops sympathetic to the anti-government demonstrators, a witness said.

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Western countries expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in oil-rich Libya, which is sandwiched between friendly neighbors Egypt and Tunisia — where long-serving leaders were successfully toppled in recent weeks. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said hIn the first-known defection from Gadhafi's regime, Libya's representative to the Arab League said he resigned his post to protest his government's decision to fire on defiant demonstrators in the second-largest city of Benghazi. Also, a major tribe in Libya was reported to have turned against Gadhafi.

Eyewitness reports trickling out of the isolated country where the Internet has been largely shut down and journalists cannot work freely suggested that protesters were fighting back more forcefully against the Middle East's longest-serving leader.

Libya's rebellion by those frustrated with Gadhafi's more than 40 years of authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen eastern cities.

In Tripoli, a Gadhafi stronghold, there have been few reports of protests said to have been quickly put down. Secret police were heavily deployed on the streets of the city of 2 million.

On Sunday, however, armed security forces were seen on rooftops surrounding central Green Square, a witness said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The witness added that a group of about 200 lawyers and judges were protesting inside a Tripoli courthouse, which was also surrounded by security forces.

An exiled opposition leader in Cairo said hundreds of protesters were near the Bab al-Aziziya military camp where Gadhafi lives on the outskirts of Tripoli. Faiz Jibril said his contacts inside Libya were also reporting that hundreds of protesters had gathered in another downtown plaza, Martyrs Square.

Libyan state TV showed Gadhafi in Tripoli being cheered by supporters, including tribesmen and women chanting "God, Moammar and Libya — that is all."

In another key blow to Gadhafi, the Warfla tribe — the largest in Libya, has announced it is joining the protests, said Switzerland-based Libyan exile Fathi al-Warfali. Although it had longstanding animosity toward the Libyan leader, it had been neutral for most of the past two decades.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration was "very concerned" about reports that Libyan security forces had fired on peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi.

"We've condemned that violence," Rice told "Meet the Press" on NBC. "Our view is that in Libya as throughout the region peaceful protests need to be respected."

The Arab League said it was following with great concern the demonstrations in Arab countries and called for "the immediate halt of all acts of violence and to refrain from using force against the peaceful demonstrations."

In Cairo, Libya's Arab League representative Abdel-Monem al-Houni said he told the Foreign Ministry in Tripoli that he had "resigned from all his duties and joined the popular revolution."

"As a Libyan citizen, I absolutely cannot be quiet about these crimes," he said, adding that he had renounced all links to the regime because of "my complete devotion to my people."

Al-Houni was part of the group that carried out the coup in 1969 that brought Gadhafi to power. He later fell out with the Libyan leader, but they reconciled in 2000. Gadhafi then named him to the Arab League post.e told Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, that the country must embark on "dialogue and implement reforms," the Foreign Office said.



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