Libyan protesters defied a fierce crackdown by Moammar Gadhafi's regime, returning Sunday to a square outside a court building in the flashpoint city of Benghazi to demand the overthrow of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Libyan protesters defied a fierce crackdown by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, returning Sunday to a square outside a court building in the flashpoint city of Benghazi to demand the overthrow of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
Witnesses told The Associated Press hundreds of demonstrators gathered early Sunday morning at the court building after a day of bloodshed, during which Libyan forces opened fire on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters.
In the hours after that attack, a medical official said at least 15 people were killed.
But Mohammed Abdullah, a Dubai-based member of the Libyan Salvation Front, said Sunday that the toll could be much higher. He quoted hospital officials in Benghazi saying the death toll might have reached 300. Witness accounts said a mixture of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists armed with knives, Kalashnikovs and even anti-aircraft missiles went after the demonstrators.
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Getting concrete details about the six days of protests in Libya is difficult because journalists cannot work freely inside the country, which Gadhafi has tightly controlled for 42 years. Information about the uprising has come through telephone interviews, along with videos and messages posted online, and through opposition activists in exile.
The U.S.-based Arbor Networks reported another Internet service outage in Libya just before midnight Saturday night. The company says online traffic ceased in Libya about 2 a.m. Saturday, was restored at reduced levels several hours later, only to be cut off again that night.
According to several accounts, police in Benghazi initially followed orders Saturday to act against the protesters, but later joined with them because they belong to the same tribe and saw foreign mercenaries taking part in the killings.
“People are defiant here and they are ready to die,” said a women on the phone from Benghazi. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, as did other witnesses.
Before Saturday’s violence, Human Rights Watch estimated at least 84 people had been killed in anti-Gadhafi unrest.
Abdullah said smaller protests were staged Saturday night on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli, a stronghold of support for Gadhafi, but demonstrators were quickly dispersed by security men. Besides Tripoli and Benghazi, the nation’s second-largest city, the U.S. State Department in a travel warning to American citizens listed five other cities that have seen demonstrations.
The protests, inspired by the successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, have been driven by frustration and anger over Gadhafi’s authoritarian rule, corruption, economic hardships.
Supporters of the Libyan uprising also demonstrated in Switzerland and in Washington on Saturday, waving flags and burning Gadhafi’s photo.