Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

LIBYA: At least 84 reported dead as Kadafi loyalists disperse protesters with force, cut off Internet

February 19, 2011 |  9:51 am

Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi, confronted by surging unrest that threatens his 41-year stranglehold on power in the oil-rich country, deployed security forces and loyalists to brutally disperse protesters Saturday in a confrontation reported to have taken at least 84 lives.

A doctor in the eastern city of Benghazi told the Al Jazeera network that he had seen dozens of corpses at the city's hospital, which was on the brink of running out of blood for transfusions to treat the wounded.

"I have seen it on my own eyes: At least 70 bodies at the hospital," Wuwufaq al-Zuwail told the network. He said security forces had blocked ambulances from approaching the protest venues to collect some felled in the brutal crackdown.

Kadafi's regime has successfully shielded the unrest in his country from the outside world's censure by barring foreign journalists, cutting off Internet access and jamming satellite signals, Arab news agencies reported, citing sources in the eastern areas where the protests have been most intense.

The Libyan government has blocked Al Jazeera's TV signal in the country and people have also reported that the network's website is inaccessible, the network said in its latest dispatch.

Human Rights Watch said it had been informed that 84 were confirmed dead after five days of bloody repression of protesters.

Libya "abruptly disconnected" from the Internet at 4:15 p.m., the U.S. online tracker Arbor Networks reported.

Al Jazeera quoted a businessman in besieged Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, as saying security forces were engaged in a "massacre" of demonstrators.

"The shooting is still taking place right now," reported the businessman, who didn't want to be identified in fear for his safety. "They don't care about us."

Another source told the network that anti-government demonstrators wanted to step up their protests in Tripoli, but that security forces were so massively deployed in the capital that Kadafi opponents were being driven back and menaced before they could converge.

"Libya is more like a black hole. It’s very hard to see inside at all,” said Joe Stork, deputy director for North Africa and the Middle East for Human Rights Watch. “Libya’s police have in the past shown zero tolerance for any dissent... What’s new here is that large numbers of people are still coming out.”

U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks suggest the unrest and defiance of the Kadafi regime is an eruption of long-simmering resentments among poor Libyans struggling with rising food costs while regime elites engage in "conspicuous consumption."

-- Carol J. Williams