Libyan protesters take to streets after deaths

Thousands of anti-government protesters were on the streets of Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi early on Friday, a day after “day of rage” demonstrations led to fatal skirmishes with the security forces.

BBC radio, quoting a witness, said protesters against Muammar Gaddafi’s four decades long rule had clashed with security forces, who were using guns, and doctors had counted the bodies of 10 people.

In the nearby eastern town of Al Bayda, where sources told Reuters earlier that five people had been killed, people were bringing tents to camp out on the streets, the BBC reported.

Funerals of those killed were expected in both Benghazi and Al Bayda on Friday. The funerals could act as a catalyst for more protests.

On Thursday, deadly clashes broke out in several towns after the opposition called for protests in a rare show of defiance inspired by uprisings in other Arab states and the toppling of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Political analysts say Libya oil wealth should give the government the capacity to smooth over social problems and reduce the risk of an Egypt-style revolt.

Tight controls on media and communications in Libya made it difficult to assess the extent of the violence, but on Friday unverified reports on social network sites said up to 50 people had died.

Gaddafi’s opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption. Gaddafi says Libyans enjoy true democracy.

Pro-government supporters also were out on the streets early on Friday, according to CNN. The broadcaster said images transmitted on Libyan state television labeled “live” showed men chanting slogans in support of Gaddafi.

The pro-Gaddafi crowd was seen singing as it surrounded his limousine as it crept along a road in the capital packed with people carrying his portrait. Fireworks lit up the night sky. The worst clashes on Thursday appeared to have taken place in the eastern Cyrenaica region centered on Benghazi, 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 (125 miles) from Benghazi, were not working on Thursday evening and officials were barring journalists from flying to Benghazi from Tripoli.

Libya’s Quryna newspaper reported the regional security chief had been removed from his post over the deaths of protesters in Al Bayda. Rights watchdog Amnesty International said security forces opened fire on protesters in Al Bayda, killing a man identified as Nacer Miftah Gout’ani.