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MIDDLE EAST: Governments clamp down on Egypt-inspired protests, rights group says

February 8, 2011 | 11:07 am

Human Rights Watch says governments in the Arab world are clamping down on protests inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

“Images of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have mesmerized the Arab public but have terrified their rulers,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement Tuesday. “They have responded with their usual mix of repression and intimidation to nip the buds of any wider democratic blossoming.”

Among the incidents cited by Human Rights Watch:

 Police and military forces in Yemen used live ammunition and rubber bullets to disperse protesters on Thursday.

Witnesses in Sudan reported that security forces used pipes, sticks and teargas to disperse anti-government protesters in Khartoum and Omdurman in January. One student was said to have died of his injuries. Human Rights Watch could not independently confirm the death.

Security forces in Saudi Arabia briefly arrested between 30 and 50 demonstrators in Jeddah after noon prayers Jan. 28, the group said. A Saudi dissident in London reportedly called for the demonstrations via his satellite TV program to protest the chaos caused by recent heavy rains.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the Palestinian Authority’s police and “special forces” punched, kicked and detained participants in a Wednesday rally in Ramallah in support of the protesters in Egypt.

In Syria, five young demonstrators were detained during a series of demonstrations in solidarity with Egyptian protesters and to protest corruption and high cellphone communication costs, the group said.

In a separate statement Tuesday, Amnesty International said that a Libyan political commentator arrested on charges of hitting a man with his car may have been targeted because he called for peaceful protests in the country. Jamal Hajji, who has dual Libyan and Danish nationality, was detained Feb. 1 in Tripoli.

"The Libyan authorities must clarify the legal status of Jamal al-Hajji," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in the statement. "They must release him immediately and without conditions if the real reason for his continuing detention is his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression."

-- Alexandra Zavis