afrol News, 17 February - Protests in Libya are spreading like wildfire throughout the country, with provincial towns and cities taking the lead as security forces prevent larger manifestations in the capital, Tripoli.
For today, a Libyan day of rage against the regime of Mohamar al-Ghaddafi was announced widely through social media, and the idea was received so enthusiastically in parts of the country that protests started already yesterday.
Protests until this morning had focused on the eastern half of the country - around the cities of Benghazi and Al-Baida - which traditionally has opposed the Ghaddafi regime and the Tripoli region's dominance. An armed insurgency in the region in the 1990s seriously had threatened the Ghaddafi regime.
In Benghazi, Libya's second city, protests yesterday were met with police brutality and mostly contained. In the eastern city of Al-Baida, however, yesterday's protests spilt into today's day of rage with manifestations all night long, despite helicopters being used to fire at demonstrators.
Security forces also used teargas and sharp munitions to halt the protests, with at least three persons being killed in Benghazi and Al-Baida during the night. Unconfirmed reports speak of up to 15 protesters being killed, mostly by attacks from helicopters.
During the day, protests have built up again in both eastern cities. Al-Baida and Benghazi are reported to be "upside-down", with all banks and shops closed, school classes suspended and thousands of protesters in the streets calling for Mr Ghaddafi to step down. The Benghazi demonstration is trying to occupy the central Omar Mukhtar Square.
More surprisingly, also smaller towns in inland Libya and the western part of the country today joined the protest, threatening to become nation-wide. In the mountain town of Az-Zintan, located far inland in western Libya and the nearby village of Ar-Ruj
ban, protesters are reported to have "taken control" of the towns.
Local reports from Az-Zintan claim that the "Revolutionary Guard" has fled the town, that the local offices of the security forces have been taken over by the people and that several building are on fire. Also in nearby Ar-Rujban, locals claim to have chased security forces out of town.
New, unconfirmed reports indicate that protesters in the north-western town of Yifrin (Yefren) also have set fire to a local government building. Equally unconfirmed reports from the eastern town of Darnah (Derna) claim that "all are protesting."
The quietest city so far in Libya is the capital, Tripoli, where government has gone out off the way to assure it being prepared. Already yesterday, all students were obliged to participate in pro-Ghaddafi demonstrations, or lose their right to study. However, the crowds gathering for a pro-regime manifestation at central Tripoli's Green Square were rather small.
Also, leading human rights activists and others trying to organise protests in Tripoli have been arrested during the last few days, representing a serious setback for the protest movement in the capital.
Tripoli today was rather empty, with most of the local population staying at home to avoid being associated with either of the sides. Small pro-regime and even smaller anti-regime manifestations were observed in parts of the city.
In other parts of Libya, and among the Libyan Diaspora, the lack of larger protests in Tripoli is causing anger. "Come on Tripoli! Wake up," was a much tweeted message during the afternoon as it became clear that the capital would not join in on the nation-wide protests.
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