|Crowds have taken to the streets in Libya demanding more representation and the overthrow of Gaddafi|
Security forces in Libya have killed scores of pro-democracy protesters in demonstrations demanding the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s long time ruler.
A doctor in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city, told Al Jazeera that he had seen 70 bodies at the main hospital on Friday in one of the harshest crackdowns against peaceful protesters thus far.
“I have seen it on my own eyes: At least 70 bodies at the hospital,” said Wuwufaq al-Zuwail, a physician. He added that security forces also prevented ambulances to reach the site of the protests on Friday.
Human Rights Watch says that Libyan security forces have killed 84 people over the past three days.
The Libyan government has also blocked Al Jazeera TV signal in the country. And people have also reported that the network’s website is inaccessible from there.
Marchers mourning dead protesters in Libya’s second-largest city have reportedly come under fire from security forces, as protests in the oil-exporting North African nation entered their fifth day.
Mohamed el-Berqawy, an engineer in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera that the city was the scene of a “massacre,” and that four demonstrators had been killed on Friday.
“Where is the United Nations … where is (US president Barack) Obama, where is the rest of the world, people are dying on the streets,” he said. “We are ready to die for our country.”
Verifying news from Libya has been difficult since protests began, thanks to restrictions on journalists entering the country, as well as internet and mobile phone black outs imposed by the government. But Human Rights Watch has reported that at least 24 protesters have been killed so far, and sources on the ground have said that number could be as high as 70.
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters seeking to oust Gaddafi took to the streets across Libya on Thursday 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.
Funerals for those killed, expected in both Benghazi and the town of Bayda on Friday, may be a catalyst for more protests.
Pro-government supporters also were out on the streets early on Friday, according to the Libyan state television, which broadcasted images labelled “live” that showed men chanting slogans in support of Gaddafi.
The pro-Gaddafi crowd was seen singing as it surrounded his limousine as it crept along a road in the capital, Tripoli, packed with people carrying his portrait.
Deadly clashes on Thursday
Deadly clashes broke out in several towns on Thursday after the opposition called for protests in a rare show of defiance inspired by uprisings in other Arab states and the toppling of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The worst clashes appeared 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 that the regional security chief had been removed from his post over the deaths of protesters in 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.
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.
Gaddafi’s opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption.
Gaddafi’s government 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 regimes facing recent mass protests.
Gaddafi also has been meeting with tribal leaders to solicit their support.