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Clashes break out on Libya’s day of protest

Libya under scrutiny after revolts in Egypt, Tunisia.

February 18, 2011 9:48 by

Clashes broke out in several towns in Libya on Thursday after the opposition called for a day of protests, local people said, while supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi rallied in the capital.

A resident in the eastern city of Benghazi said at least five people had been killed in violence in nearby towns, but with phone lines out of order and access barred for journalists, it was impossible to establish an exact death toll.

Opponents of Gaddafi, communicating anonymously online or working in exile, had urged people to protest on Thursday to try to emulate the popular uprisings which unseated long-serving rulers in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

In the capital of the oil-exporting country there was no sign of unrest, a Reuters reporter said, apart from the pro-Gaddafi demonstrators in the city’s Green Square chanting “We are defending Gaddafi!” and waving his portrait.

The source in Benghazi, who said he had been in contact with people in the nearby town of Al Bayda, said the death toll there had risen to five. Two young men were killed on Wednesday and in clashes after their burial three more died, he said.

The same source said there were reports of several deaths in Ajdabiya, about 160 km (100 miles) west of Benghazi.

The towns are all part of the same eastern Cyrenaica region centred on Benghazi where the worst clashes appear to have taken place and where support for Gaddafi has historically been weaker than in other parts of the country.

Earlier, a resident in Al Bayda told Reuters by telephone: “The situation is still complicated … The young people do not want to listen to what the elders say.”

Phone connections to the town, which is 200 km from Benghazi, were not working on Thursday evening and officials were barring journalists from flying to Benghazi from Tripoli.

Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi, reported that the regional security chief had been removed from his post over the deaths of protesters in Al Bayda.

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