35 killed in crackdown on Libya protests

Security forces wage escalating crackdown on anti-government protesters demanding ouster of leader Moammar Gadhafi in several cities.

Libya protests 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Libya protests 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
CAIRO — Libyan security forces waged an escalating crackdown on protesters demanding the ouster of leader Moammar Gadhafi in several eastern cities. In the country's second largest city, a stream of 35 bodies was brought to one hospital Friday, reportedly of protesters shot while trying to march on one of Gadhafi's residences, a doctor said.
The deaths took place in the city of Benghazi after funerals for more than a dozen protesters shot to death a day earlier. The doctor in Benghazi's al-Jalaa hospital said survivors of Friday's clashes said that after the burials, protesters tried to rally outside the Katiba, a military compound where Ghadafi stays when he visits.
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Security forces inside the compound opened fire on protesters as they approach, the doctor said. Dead and wounded began flowing into the hospital's emergency ward in the afternoon, in groups of five or six, many with bullet wounds to the head or chest. He said he counted 35 bodies in an ICU unit used as a temporary morgue.
The doctor, reached by phone from Cairo, spoke on condition his name not be used for fear of reprisals.
Several dozen have reportedly been killed already in the unprecedented wave of protests that have erupted the past four days as the pro-democracy movement that has swept up the Middle East reached one of the region's most closed nations. Gadhafi has ruled virtually unquestioned since 1969.
Libya is oil-rich, but the gap between its haves and have-nots is wide, and the protests have flared hardest in the more impoverished 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 Gadhafi's regime seems to neglect the east intentionally, letting unemployment and poverty rise to weaken opponents there.
"This alarming rise in the death toll, and the reported nature of the victims' injuries, strongly suggests that security forces are permitted use of lethal force against unarmed protesters calling for political change," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said of the Benghazi bloodshed.
Information is tightly controlled in Libya, where journalists cannot work freely and many citizens fear the powerful security and intelligence services. The Internet was reportedly down in many parts of eastern Libya, including Benghazi.
Witnesses and residents of several cities gave accounts of events Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. In many cases, separate people gave similar reports, but their accounts could not be independently confirmed.
At least five cities of eastern Libya have seen protests and clashes in recent days. In one of them, Beyida, 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. Another witness reported 26 protesters buried in Beyida on Thursday and early Friday.
"We need doctors, medicine and everything," the hospital official said.