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Libya cuts off internet service: Arbor networks

84 dead as "day of anger" becomes bloodbath: HRW

Published:

Internet service was cut off in Libya on Friday as the regime evidently moved to strip anti-government protestors of ways to organize and communicate, according to Arbor Networks.

Libya "abruptly disconnected" from the Internet at 4:15 pm.(00:15 GMT Saturday), according to the U.S. based tracker of online traffic.

Internet traffic in and out of the country halted suddenly after being throttled earlier in the day, according to an Arbor Networks chart titled "Libya Pulls the Plug."

The regime of Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi vowed on Friday to snuff out attempts to challenge the Libyan leader, after an opposition "day of anger" became a bloodbath.

A severe challenge

Gaddafi is facing one of his severest challenges amid protests by thousands in the second city of Benghazi and reports that more than 84 people have been killed by security forces.

The demonstrations on Friday against his four decades in power were unprecedented with Human Rights Watch saying at least 84 people had been killed during three days of protests.

"Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the eastern Libyan cities of Benghazi, Baida, Ajdabiya, Zawiya and Derna on February 18, 2011, following violent attacks against peaceful protests the day before that killed 20 people in Benghazi, 23 in Baida, three in Ajdabiya, and three in Derna," the New York-based watchdog said.

"Hospital sources told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on February 18, almost all with live ammunition."

The watchdog's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Joe Stork, called on the Libyan authorities to respect the right of free assembly.

"Moamer Gaddafi's ecurity forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability," he said.

"Libyan authorities should allow peaceful protesters to have their say."

Any funerals of dead protesters could act as further flashpoints for demonstrators emboldened by uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt that toppled long-ruling presidents.

"Special forces who have a very strong allegiance to Gaddafi are still fighting desperately to gain to control, to gain ground and the people are fighting them street by street," said a resident of Benghazi identified as Mohammed by the BBC.

The broadcaster said residents in Benghazi reported there was no electricity in parts of the city and that tanks were stationed outside the court building.

While the level of unrest has not previously been seen before in the oil exporter, Libya-watchers say the situation is different from Egypt, because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems.

Gaddafi is also respected in much of the country, though less so in the Cyrenaica region around Benghazi.

"For sure there is no national uprising," said Noman Benotman, a former opposition Libyan Islamist who is based in Britain but is currently in Tripoli.

"I don't think Libya is comparable to Egypt or Tunisia. Gaddafi would fight to the very last moment," he said by telephone from the Libyan capital.

The BBC quoted one Benghazi protester as saying some soldiers had switched sides and that people clambered unopposed on to three tanks.

"The soldiers say we are citizens of this country and we cannot fight our citizens," he said.

Tight government control and media restrictions have limited the amount of information emerging about the unrest.

Amnesty International quoted sources at a hospital in Benghazi, the focus for the violence and about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of Tripoli, as saying the most common injuries were gunshot wounds to the head, chest and neck. Officials have given no death toll, or commented directly on the unrest.

"This alarming rise in the death toll, and the reported nature of the victims' injuries, strongly suggests that security forces are permitted lethal use of force against unarmed protesters calling for political change," Amnesty said.

I don't think Libya is comparable to Egypt or Tunisia. Gaddafi would fight to the very last moment

Noman Benotman

Thousands gathered

The privately owned Quryna newspaper said that in Benghazi thousands of residents had gathered on Friday for the funeral processions of 14 protesters killed in clashes there. Thousands more had demonstrated in front of Benghazi court building.

Opposition activists said protesters fought troops for control of the nearby town of al-Bayda, scene of some of the worst violence over the past two days, where townspeople said they were burying 14 people who were killed in earlier clashes.

Residents said that by Friday evening the streets were calm but there were conflicting accounts about whether opposition activists or security forces were in control of the town.

Ashour Shamis, a London-based Libyan journalist, said protesters had stormed Benghazi's Kuwafiyah prison and freed dozens of political prisoners. Quryna said 1,000 prisoners had escaped and 150 had been recaptured.

The unrest though was not on a national scale with most protests confined to the east around Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has traditionally been weak. There were no reliable reports of major protests elsewhere, and state media said there had been pro-Gaddafi rallies in the capital.

Quryna newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying the General People's Congress, or parliament, would adopt a "major shift" in government policy including appointing new people to senior positions. It gave no details and the sources could not be clarified.

A sermon at Friday prayers in Tripoli, broadcast on state television, urged people to ignore reports in foreign media "which doesn't want our country to be peaceful, which ... is the aim of Zionism and imperialism, to divide our country".

Text messages sent to mobile phone subscribers thanked people who ignored calls to join protests. "We congratulate our towns which understood that interfering with national unity threatens the future of generations," it said.

This alarming rise in the death toll, and the reported nature of the victims' injuries, strongly suggests that security forces are permitted lethal use of force against unarmed protesters calling for political change

Amnesty International