afrol News, 19 February - Government security forces have "killed at least 84 people" in three days of protests in several cities in Libya, according to interviews with local hospital staff and witnesses.
The US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) today published these new numbers, based on telephone interviews with Libyan sources.
"The Libyan authorities should immediately end attacks on peaceful protesters and protect them from assault by pro-government armed groups," the human rights group said in a statement today.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the eastern Libyan cities of Benghazi, Al-Baida, Ajdabiya, Zawiya, and Derna on Friday, following violent attacks against peaceful protests the day before that killed 20 people in Benghazi, 23 in Al-Baida, three in Ajdabiya, and three in Derna. Hospital sources told HRW that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on Friday, almost all with live ammunition.
"Muammar Ghaddafi's security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they are demanding change and accountability," said Joe Stork of the human rights group. "Libyan authorities should allow peaceful protesters to have their say."
Muammar Ghaddafi has ruled Libya for 42 years, maintaining his grip on power by the use of the Revolutionary Guard and a network of spies.
The protests in Benghazi on Friday began during funerals for the 20 demonstrators killed by security forces the day before. Eyewitnesses told HRW that security forces with distinctive yellow uniforms opened fire on protesters near the Fadil Bu Omar Katiba, a security force base in the centre of Benghazi. One protester said he witnessed four men shot dead.
By 11 PM on Friday, Al Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi had received the bodies of 35 people killed that day, a senior hospital official told HRW. He said the deaths had been caused by gunshot wounds to the chest, neck, and head. Two sources
Protesters in Benghazi, Libya, fleeing from gunshots
at the hospital confirmed hat the death toll for Thursday was 20, and that at least 45 people had been wounded by bullets.
The senior hospital official said, "We put out a call to all the doctors in Benghazi to come to the hospital and for everyone to contribute blood because I have never seen anything like this before."
Witnesses said that after the Friday shootings, protesters in Benghazi continued on to the courthouse and gathered there throughout the evening, the crowd swelling to thousands.
In Al-Baida, further to the east, protesters on Friday buried the 23 people who had been shot dead the day before. One protester told HRW that police were patrolling the streets but he had seen no further clashes.
In Ajdabiya, to the south of Benghazi, one protester said that early on Friday, people had gathered to bury the three protesters shot dead the day before. He said that on Thursday, Revolutionary Guard officers fired upon peaceful protesters who were calling for a change in government. He said the protests were ongoing as of 9:30 PM on Friday but that he had seen no further violence.
Tripoli, Libya's political and economic capital, remained quiet compared to the east of the country. HRW researchers spoke to the family of a man who had been summoned by Internal Security because of his postings on Facebook. On Friday, Internal Security officers came to the family's home at around 6 PM and took both the man and his uncle away with them to an undisclosed location.
"The Libyan government doesn't allow journalists and human rights monitors to work freely," commented Mr Stork. "But the world is watching what is happening, and abusive forces and their commanders can be held to account," he added.
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