Libya and Yemen Try to Suppress Protests

Durables/Sana’a (ANN) Cities across northern Africa and the Middle East teetered on a knife’s edge on Saturday as shaken governments in Libya and Yemen made new moves to stifle waves of uprisings. In Libya, where days of demonstrations


have challenged the 41-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, new protests continued to flare even as the government continued a violent crackdown against the opposition. Libya also moved to shut off Internet access, mirroring a tactic used by Egyptian authorities to thwart an upheaval that eventually led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Antigovernment marches in the impoverished nation of Yemen took a violent turn as pro-government supporters dressed in civilian clothes opened fire on a group opposing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounding at least four people. And hundreds of police in Algeria’s capital used clubs to overwhelm a small group of antigovernment demonstrators, according to news reports.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said that the death toll in Libya after three days of government crackdowns against protesters had risen to 84, and news reports said that bodies were continuing to flow into the country’s hospitals and morgues.

Libyan authorities appeared to cut off Internet service overnight, further obscuring the view into one of the region’s most isolated nations.

The Internet monitoring firm Renesys said that Libya appeared to block almost all Internet access at 1:18 a.m. Saturday, blocking a crucial path used by demonstrators to communicate with one another, as well as opposition figures, journalists and rights groups outside the country.

Egypt blacked out most access to the Internet for five days as antigovernment protests convulsed Tahrir Square in the capital and other parts of the country. The move further inflamed protesters’ grievances about Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.

In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, a focal point of the upheaval, special forces moved to break up a protest camp where hundreds had pitched tents and gathered to demand an end to Mr. Qaddafi’s erratic and sometimes brutal rule.

The raid began around 5 a.m. Saturday as troops fired tear gas into the camp, scattering hundreds of people, according to news reports. It was unclear whether anyone had been killed, but one protester told the Associated Press that demonstrators had been carrying bodies of the wounded as they fled the city’s central square.

Human-rights groups, citing interviews with protesters and medical providers, said that Libyan security forces appeared to be firing freely, and often lethally, at largely peaceful demonstrations.

The unrest in Benghazi appeared to grow out of the long-simmering repercussions of the killings of hundreds of prisoners in 1996 in the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. Some of the families have refused government compensation for the deaths of their relatives and have organized occasional demonstrations to press for more information.

Others joined their protest Friday at the courthouse in Benghazi and, by the end of the day, the crowd had grown into the thousands, said Heba Morayef, a researcher forHuman Rights Watch.

In Yemen, about 1,000 protesters demanding the ouster of President Saleh gathered for another day in Sana, the capital, squaring off against pro-government demonstrators, who held posters of Mr. Saleh The pro-government group moved closer, and the two sides began hurling bottles, shoes and rocks at each other, even as some antigovernment protesters called out, “Be peaceful!”

The pro-government demonstrators fell back, but then a larger group returned, firing automatic weapons, at first into the air, and then at the antigovernment marchers. One man fell into the street and was carried away by other demonstrators, his chest covered in blood.

The antigovernment marchers scattered as the pro-Saleh group took control of the street, celebrating their victory by chanting, dancing and waving their jambiyas, Yemen’s traditional curved daggers.

One of them, Amin Rafiq, 35, condemned the protesters, saying, “They want to stir up the trouble.”

Meanwhile, the streets in Bahrain appeared somewhat quieter on Saturday, one day after security forces opened fire on marchers as they made their way toward Pearl Square, the heart of the uprising.

But a member of the country’s main Shiite opposition bloc rejected a call to negotiate from Bahrain’s Sunni monarch, saying that authorities first had to pull the military off the streets, according to Reuters. Bahrain, a small island in the Gulf, is a strategically important ally of the United States and home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

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