Libyan forces shoot at mourners, killing 15

Death toll believed to exceed 80 after Gaddafi’s forces attack protesters; Egypt recognizes Brotherhood splinter group as party.

Libya protests 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Libya protests 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Security forces fired on prodemocracy demonstrators Saturday in Libya as Muammar Gaddafi’s autocratic regime struck back against the wave of protests that has already toppled autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia.
At least 15 died when police shot into crowds of mourners in the country’s second largest city, a hospital official said.
RELATED: Libyan forces storm protest camp in Benghazi
35 killed in crackdown on Libya protests
Libyans returned to the street for a fifth straight day of protest despite estimates by human rights groups of 84 deaths in the North African country – with 35 on Friday alone. In Benghazi, a focal point of unrest and Libya’s second largest city, snipers fired on mourners as they attended the funerals of other protesters, a hospital official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Before dawn, special forces had attacked hundreds of demonstrators, including lawyers and judges, who were camped out in front of a Benghazi courthouse.
“They fired tear gas on protesters in tents and cleared the areas after many fled carrying the dead and the injured,” one demonstrator said by phone.
Authorities cut off the Internet across Libya, further isolating the country. Just after 2 a.m. local time in Libya, the US-based Arbor Networks security company detected a total cessation of online traffic.
Protesters confirmed they could not get online.
Gaddafi is facing the biggest popular uprising of his autocratic reign, with much of the action in the country’s impoverished east.
He has responded forcefully.
A female protester in Tripoli, the capital city to the west, said it was much harder to demonstrate there. Police wereout in force and Gaddafi was greeted rapturously when he drove through town in a motorcade on Thursday.
In neighboring Egypt, a moderate Islamic party outlawed for 15 years was granted official recognition Saturday by a court in a sign of increasing political openness after the fall of autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.
Al-Wasat Al-Jadid, or the New Center, was founded in 1996 by activists who split off from the conservative Muslim Brotherhood and sought to create a political movement promoting a tolerant version of Islam with liberal tendencies. Its attempts to register as an official party were rejected four times since then, most recently in 2009.
In 2007, Human Rights Watch accused Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party of using the law that governs the formation of political parties to maintain a virtual monopoly over political power in Egypt by denying opponents the right to form parties.
The founder of the newly recognized party, Abu Al-Ila Madi, said Saturday’s ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court was “a positive fruit of the January 25 revolution of the freedom generation.”
Madi said his party would immediately get to work organizing its membership and opening branches to freely participate in Egypt’s political life.
Israel’s former head of Military Intelligence, Maj.- Gen. Amos Yadlin, said Saturday that Egypt’s apparent democratization need not necessarily be cause for concern for Israelis.
In an interview with Channel 2 News, Yadlin said Israelis should not “grow anxious over developments in Egypt. A hostile government in Egypt would not necessarily go to war with Israel, and every Arab state has its own characteristics, and we must treat each instance individually.
“There is no way to prophesy the intentions of leaders or their public,” Yadlin added. “Elections in Egypt could well bring about a regime that will continue to take a moderate stance toward Israel.”
An official with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said Friday that any decision on the country’s peace treaty with Israel was up to the Egyptian people, and the Islamist movement would not impose its view on them, Reuters reported.
“The decision on the treaty does not belong to the Brotherhood, it belongs to the entire Egyptian people,” said Essam Al-Erian, a spokesman for the Islamist group, in an interview with Al-Arabiya television.
In Jordan, meanwhile, clashes broke out Friday between government supporters and opponents at a protest calling for more freedom and lower food prices, injuring eight people in the first reported violence in weeks of demonstrations.
It was the seventh straight Friday that Jordanians took to the streets to demand more say in decision-making.
The Amman protest drew about 2,000 people, including hardline leftists, Muslim conservatives and students calling for reduced power for the king and the chance to elect members of the cabinet.
Students from the growing “Jaayin” or “I’m Coming” movement chanted: “We want constitutional reforms. We want a complete change to policies.”
Jordan’s king enjoys absolute powers, ruling by decree and he can appoint and dismiss Cabinets and parliament whenever he wants.
“We want a complete overhaul of the political system, including the constitution, the parliament dissolved and new free and fair elections held,” said movement member and teacher Amani Ghoul, insisting the protests will continue until their demands are met.
In Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, riot police opened fire on thousands of protesters, killing one anti-government demonstrator and injuring five others on a 10th day of revolt against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key US ally who has been in power for three decades.
As on other days earlier this week, protesters marching from Sanaa’s university were met by police and government supporters with clubs and knives who engaged in a stone-throwing battle with the demonstrators.
At one point, police fired in the air to disperse the march.
A medical official said one man was shot in the neck and killed. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The death was the seventh this week in Yemen.
In a meeting with civic leaders, Saleh said Yemenis have the right to express themselves peacefully and that the perpetrators of the unrest were trying to seize power by fomenting instability.
“The homeland is facing a foreign plot that threatens its future,” Saleh said, without elaborating.
Saleh, a key US ally in fighting al-Qaida terrorists, has tried to blunt discontent by promising not to seek reelection when his term ends in 2013.
But he is facing a restless population, with threats from al-Qaida militants who want to oust him, a southern secessionist movement and a sporadic armed rebellion in the north. To try to quell new outbursts of dissent, Saleh pledged to meet some of the protesters’demands and has reached out to tribal chiefs, who are a major base of support for him.
Popular unrest was felt in other Arab states as well. In Iraq, several thousand people marched in the city of Sulaimaniyah to protest the shooting deaths of two antigovernment protesters earlier in the week.
In Oman, some 300 people marched peacefully in Muscat, the capital of a Gulf nation with close military ties to the United States.
They demanded political reform, including the resignation of several government ministers, but pledged their loyalty to the hereditary monarch, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.
And in Algeria, police thwarted a rally by thousands of pro-democracy supporters in the capital Algiers, breaking up the crowd into isolated groups to keep them from marching.
An opposition lawmaker was hospitalized with a head injury after he was clubbed by police. The march comes a week after a similar protest brought thousands of protesters and riot police into the streets.
Protesters seek sweeping political reform, including the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and an end to the state of emergency imposed in 1992 to put down an Islamic insurgency.
Critics complain of massive corruption, high unemployment and social inequality.