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Libya: Violent protests rock city of Benghazi

    BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo talks about the protests in Libya as amateur video is released of clashes in Benghazi 
    Hundreds of people have clashed with police and government supporters in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
    At least 14 people are said to have been hurt, with witnesses saying police fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
    The overnight unrest followed the arrest of an outspoken critic of the government, who was reportedly freed later.
    Pro-democracy protests have recently swept through several Arab nations.
    The demonstrators have forced the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt from power.
    However, correspondents say it is unlikely that Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi - who has ruled the country since a coup in 1969 - will lose power any time soon.
    Internet footage There is no independent confirmation of the overnight protests in Benghazi, but eyewitnesses say that at one stage some 2,000 people were involved.
    The violent clashes reported from Benghazi could well be a foretaste of what is to follow.
    Opponents of the regime are calling for major protests this Thursday, spreading the word by internet.
    Libya has had protests before, successfully quashed by the powerful security forces.
    But those were before the leaders of both Libya's neighbours - Tunisia to the west, Egypt to the east - were driven from power.
    There has been much speculation amongst young, educated Arabs, that the days of Gaddafi's regime are numbered.
    He himself has been in power for 42 years, making him the Arab world's longest serving ruler.
    They say stones were thrown at police who are said to have responded with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets.
    Footage of the unrest was later posted on the internet.
    One clip on Facebook - published by someone who said it was recorded on Tuesday - showed people chanting outside what looked like a police station. Gunshots could be heard in the footage, and later an injured man is seen being carried away from the scene.
    Libya's state television showed pictures of several hundred people in Benghazi voicing their support for the government. The government has so far not commented on events in the port city, about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.
    Fourteen people were injured, including 10 police officers, the online edition of Libya's privately-owned Quryna newspaper reported.
    One witness, who did not want to be named, later told the BBC: "A couple of people in the crowd started chanting anti-government slogans and the crowd took that on.
    "But then there were clashes with pro-government supporters and then after a bit the pro-government supporters were dispersed and then the security services arrived and they dispersed the crowds with hot-water cannons."
    Another Benghazi resident told Reuters on Wednesday that the city was now "quiet".


    • Libya's second-largest city with some 670,000 residents
    • has history of antagonism with Col Gaddafi since 1969 coup
    • many relatives of inmates allegedly killed at Abu Salim prison in 1996 live in city
    • hit world headlines with HIV infection trial involving Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor in 1998
    "The banks are open and the students are going to school," said the witness, who did not want to be identified.
    In a statement on Wednesday, a senior Libyan official warned that the authorities "will not allow a group of people to move around at night and play with the security of Libya"
    "The clashes last night were between small groups of people - up to 150. Some outsiders infiltrated that group. They were trying to corrupt the local legal process which has long been in place.
    "We will not permit that at all, and we call on Libyans to voice their issues through existing channels, even if it is to call for the downfall of the government," said the official, who was not identified.
    'Worrying sign' Tuesday's protests began after the arrest of Fathi Terbil, who represents relatives of more than 1,000 prisoners allegedly massacred by security forces in Tripoli's Abu Salim jail in 1996, reports say.
    Sources say he was held after telling relatives of current inmates that the prison was on fire and urging them to protest. Mr Terbil was later said to have been freed.
    Reports from Libya say that 110 members of a banned militant group will be freed from Abu Salim later on Wednesday. It is not clear if the Benghazi clashes and the planned release of the inmates are connected.
    Pro-Gaddafi demonstrators in Benghazi. Photo: 16 Feburary 2011 Gaddafi supporters held rallies in Benghazi and other Libyan cities, state TV said
    The reported unrest comes a day before planned anti-government demonstrations on Thursday, which are being organised via the internet.
    Muammar Gaddafi has ruled oil-rich Libya since 1969, making him the Arab world's longest-serving leader.
    Col Gaddafi has always insisted that the country is run by a series of peoples' committees, though most outside observers believe it is a police state with him firmly in control, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports.
    He adds that although the Benghazi protest is a worrying sign for Col Gaddafi, it is unlikely that the regime will lose power tomorrow.
    The Middle East has seen a wave of protests fuelled by discontent over unemployment, rising living costs, corruption and autocratic leaderships.
    This began with the overthrow of Tunisia's leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in January.
    Last week, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned.
    In recent days there have also been anti-government demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran.

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Libya: Violent protests rock city of Benghazi

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