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Africa
Libya forces 'open fire' at funeral
At least 15 mourners reportedly killed in eastern city of Benghazi, as anti-government protests continue unabated.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2011 21:17 GMT
 There are claims that some of those cracking down on protesters are foreign mercenaries [Al Jazeera]

Libyan security forces have reportedly opened fire at a funeral in the eastern city of Benghazi, killing at least 15 people and injuring scores more as protests against Muammar Gaddafi, the country's long-time ruler, continued.

The victims on Saturday were mourning the loss of protesters who had been killed during anti-government demonstrations in the city during the past week, witnesses said, bringing the death toll to more than 100 in six days of unrest, according to opposition groups.

A doctor from Benghazi told Al Jazeera that the Al Jalah hospital where he works had received 15 bodies and was treating numerous people following the shootings at the funeral.

He said the hospital had counted 44 deaths in total in three days, adding that it was struggling to treat the wounded.

"This is not a well-equipped hospital and these injuries come in waves. All are very serious injuries, involving the head, the chest and the abdomen. They are bullet injuries from high-velocity rifles.

"All are civilians aged from 13 to 35, no police or military injuries," he said, adding that there was no way the wounds could have come from anyone other than security forces.

"Absolutely a shoot-to-kill policy," he said.

Hospitals 'overwhelmed'

The deaths came amid claims that a military brigade in Benghazi had fallen to the people. The doctor in Benghazi told Al Jazeera that protesters stormed the building on Saturday.

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The violence came after Human Rights Watch said earlier on Saturday that 84 people had died over the past three days.

Ahmed, a businessman and resident of Benghazi who declined to give his real name for his own safety, told Al Jazeera that hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with the number of dead and injured and were running out of blood.

"It's a big, big massacre. We've never heard of anything like this before. It's horrible," he said.

"The shooting is still taking place right now. We're about 3km away from it, and we saw this morning army troops coming into the city. You can hear the shooting now. They don't care about us."

Unrest 'spreading'

The unrest in Libya has largely been centred in the eastern cities of Benghazi, Bayda and Tobruk. But Al Jazeera has received reports that the protests have begun to spread to the country's west.

Witnesses said thousands of people took part in peaceful protests in the western city of Misurata. They were demonstrating against state brutality, rather than calling for a change in government.


Benghazi resident says hospitals in the city are overwhelmed [Al Jazeera]

Mohamed Abdulmalek, the chairman of Libya Watch - a human rights group that monitors abuses within the country - said the delay of protests in the west was due to the heavy presence of security forces there.

"The delay in the uprising in the west was not because the people did not want to go out," he told Al Jazeera from the UK.

"But the security presence in Tripoli, for example, was so intense that people gathered individually in the beginning. The Libyan regime anticipated this so the squares in Tripoli were occupied by security forces and therefore people were not allowed to gather.

"But eventually, the pressure on the capital started from outside Tripoli and now you see the people revolting. We have no doubt that the east and the west will unite."

Verifying news from Libya has been difficult since the protests began, thanks to restrictions on journalists entering the country, as well as internet and mobile phone black outs imposed by the government.

The Libyan government has blocked Al Jazeera's TV signal in the country and people have also reported that the network's website is inaccessible from there. 

'Ready to die'

Protests in the country began on February 14, and three days later tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators seeking to oust Gaddafi took to the streets in what organisers called a "day of rage" modelled after similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted longtime leaders there.

Gaddafi has ruled Libya since 1969.

Libyan state television, however, has made little mention of the anti-government protests. Instead, it showed supporters of Gaddafi filling the streets of the capital, singing as they surrounded his limousine as it crept along a road packed with people carrying his portrait.

The worst clashes during the unrest appear to have taken place in the eastern Cyrenaica region, centred on Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has historically been weaker than in other parts of the country.

Libya's Quryna newspaper reported on Thursday that the regional security chief had been removed from his post over the deaths of protesters in the city of Bayda.

Libyan opposition groups in exile claimed that Bayda citizens had joined with local police forces to take over Bayda and fight against government-backed militias, whose ranks are allegedly filled by recruits from other African nations.

While Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, two-thirds of the 6.5 million strong population live on less than $2 a day.

Recent leaked memos from US diplomats have even said that Gaddafi's government seems to neglect the east intentionally to weaken the opposition.

Political analysts say Libyan oil wealth may give the government the capacity to smooth over social problems and
reduce the risk of an Egypt-style revolt.

But Gaddafi's opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption.

The government has proposed the doubling of government employees' salaries and released 110 suspected anti-government figures who oppose him - tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab governments facing recent mass protests.

Gaddafi also has been meeting with tribal leaders to solicit their support.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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