Saturday, February 19, 2011
Security forces waged an escalating crackdown on protesters demanding the ouster of leader Moammar Gadhafi in several eastern Libyan cities. In the country's second largest city, Benghazi, 35 bodies were brought to one hospital Friday. These were protesters shot while trying to march on one of Gadhafi's residences, a doctor from Benghazi's al-Jalaa hospital said. Protesters tried to rally outside the Katiba, a military compound where Ghadafi stays when he visits Benghazi. Security forces inside the compound opened fire on the protesters. Dead & wounded began flowing into the hospital's emergency ward in the afternoon, in groups of five or six, many with bullet wounds to the head or chest. The doctor, who chose to remain anonymous, fearing reprisal, said he counted the bodies in an ICU unit used as a temporary morgue.
Several dozen had already reportedly been killed in the unprecedented wave of protests that had erupted the previous four days as the pro-democracy movement that has swept up the Middle East reached one of the region's most closed nations. Gadhafi has ruled virtually unquestioned since 1969. Forces from the military's elite Khamis Brigade moved into Benghazi. The Khamis Brigade is led by Gadhafi's youngest son Khamis Gadhafi, & has been called "the most well-trained & well-equipped force in the Libyan military".
"This alarming rise in the death toll, & the reported nature of the victims' injuries, strongly suggests that security forces are permitted use of lethal force against unarmed protesters calling for political change," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East & North Africa, said of the Benghazi bloodshed.
Libya is oil-rich, but the gap between its haves & have-nots is wide. The protests have flared hardest in the more impoverished eastern parts of the country, the site of anti-government agitation in the past. It is estimated that about one-third of Libyans live in poverty. Also the Libyan people are tired of the more than forty-two year reign of Gadhafi.