27 killed in eastern Libya protests: report

Gaddafi loyalists threaten to snuff Libya demos

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Anti-regime protests in eastern Libya cost the lives of at least 20 people in Benghazi and seven in Derna, the website of Oea newspaper, close to leader Moamer Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam, reported Friday.

It said 20 people were buried in Libya's second city of Benghazi on Friday, whereas a previous toll supplied by a medical source in the city was 14 dead.

In Derna, east of Benghazi, the paper said seven people were killed in protests: five were buried on Friday and the other two bodies were still in the hospital.

The new toll takes the reported number of people killed since demonstrations began in Libya on Tuesday to 41, according to an AFP count compiled by different local sources.

Protesters set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station in Benghazi after the building's guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source told AFP.

"The radio station is on fire," a witness said.

Another said security guards had left the building during the afternoon, after which the demonstrators entered and set it on fire.

Confirming the reports, an official told AFP this action was a "crime against the security and stability of the country."

Bloodbath

Gaddafi's regime vowed on Friday to snuff any further attempt to challenge the Libyan leader, after the opposition "day of anger" turned into a bloodbath.

"The response of the people and the Revolutionary Forces to any adventure by these small groups will be sharp and violent," the Revolutionary Committees said on the website of their newspaper, Azzahf al-Akhdar (Green March), according to AFP.

The committees are the backbone of Gaddafi's regime.

"The power of the people, the Jamahiriya (government by the masses), the Revolution and the leader are all red lines, and anyone who tries to cross or approach them will be committing suicide and playing with fire."

The tough line came after security forces on Thursday gunned down at least eight people in Benghazi and 16 in al-Bayda, according to a detailed account from Human Rights Watch (HRW) that quoted unidentified witnesses.

"The security forces' vicious attacks on peaceful demonstrators lay bare the reality of Gaddafi's brutality when faced with any internal dissent," said HRW's Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

Briki initially described the situation in the city on Friday as calm, but later reported a jailbreak by several inmates at al-Kuifya prison, who went on to set fire to the prosecutor's office, a bank and a police station.

Arab League summit

Iraq, meanwhile, denied an Arab League summit set for March 29 in Baghdad -- the first since popular unrest in the Middle East flared up last month -- had been postponed, as the Libyan presidency of the pan-Arab group had said.

Libya, meanwhile, the current holder of the summit's rotating presidency, said earlier that an Arab League summit scheduled for next month in Iraq has been postponed because of turmoil in the Arab world.

"The presidency of the Arab summit has decided to postpone the upcoming Arab summit because of the circumstances in the Arab region," Libyan official news agency Jana said.

However, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said in Cairo that the pan-Arab group had not received any formal request to reschedule the summit.

Hesham Youssef, a senior aide to Moussa, said: "This is a decision that has to be taken collectively. If there is a suggestion of that nature, a decision has to be taken collectively."

Longest-serving leader

Gaddafi, 68, is the longest-serving leader in the Arab world, but his oil-producing North African nation is bookended by Tunisia and Egypt, whose longtime leaders have been toppled in the face of popular uprisings.

Opponents of his regime used Facebook to call for a national "day of anger" for Thursday, but Gaddafi sought to counter its impact with his own pro-regime rally in the heart of the capital Tripoli.

Hundreds joined the rally in Green Square, near the capital's waterfront, hoisting banners proclaiming "Gaddafi, father of the people" and "the crowd supports the revolution and its leader."

Gaddafi himself turned up briefly in the early hours of Friday, getting a rapturous welcome, according to images on state television which also showed what it called similar rallies in Benghazi, Sirte and other cities.

The Revolutionary Committees have said they will not allow protesters to "plunder the achievements of the people and threaten the safety of citizens and the country's stability."

In Libya's second city Benghazi, HRW said hundreds of lawyers, activists and other protesters had gathered on Thursday at the local courthouse to call for a constitution and respect for the rule of law.

Death toll

A medical official in Benghazi had earlier said that seven had been killed on Thursday, the third straight day of unrest in the Mediterranean city known as an opposition stronghold.

In al-Bayda city, meanwhile, HRW said an injured protester sitting near the intensive care unit in a local hospital had confirmed security forces had shot dead 16 people. About 70 others were wounded.

"He said that special forces and armed men in street clothes fired live ammunition to deter protesters," who had been chanting such slogans as "Down with the regime" and "Get out Gaddafi," it said.

Elsewhere on Thursday, in the inland city of Zentan, protesters set fire to local premises of the Revolutionary Committees offices and the security forces, the Libyan newspaper Quryna reported on its website.

On Thursday night, Briki said gunfire rang out in several parts of the city on the third straight day of protests against Gaddafi.

Britain, France and the European Union have called for restraint by the authorities in Libya, whose relations with the West have improved sharply over the past decade after years of virtual pariah status.

On Thursday, Amnesty International said: "The police in Libya, as elsewhere, have a responsibility to ensure public safety, but this does not extend to using lethal or excessive force against peaceful protesters."