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Hundreds of Libyans demand the government’s ouster

February 16, 2011
Muammar Ghadafi
TRIPOLI, Libya —

Hundreds of Libyans calling for the government’s ouster took to the streets Wednesday in the country’s second-largest city as Egypt-inspired unrest spread to the country long ruled by Moammar Kadafi.

Ashur Shamis, a Libyan opposition activist in London, said the protests began Tuesday in the port city of Benghazi, with demonstrators chanting, “No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah” and “Down, down to corruption and to the corrupt.”

But police and armed government backers quickly clamped down on the protesters, firing rubber bullets, he said.

Witnesses and videos posted on the Internet showed protesters calling for a Libyan uprising and chanting slogans against Kadafi, who has held virtually unchecked power for more than four decades, as well as Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi.

Libya’s official news agency did not carry any word of the anti-government protests. It reported only that supporters of Kadafi were demonstrating Wednesday in the capital, Tripoli, as well as Benghazi and other cities.

A Libyan security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, said 14 people, including 10 policemen, had been injured in clashes Tuesday. He said protesters were armed with knives and stones and police tried to disperse the crowd using water cannons.

The clashes occurred a day after several opposition groups in exile called for Kadafi’s overthrow and for a peaceful transition of power.

“Col. Kadafi and all his family members should relinquish powers,” the groups said in a statement.

Independent confirmation was not possible as the government keeps tight control over the media, but one video clip dated Feb. 15 and posted on a website called “Libya Uprising Today” showed protesters carrying signs and chanting: “No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah.”

Another video with the same date showed a gathering running while shots are heard. A young man in a white, bloodstained robe was then shown being carried by protesters.

As in the uprisings that toppled longtime autocratic rulers in two countries flanking Libya — Egypt and Tunisia — Libyan activists used social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to rally people in their homeland. They called for a major protest Thursday.

The protests scheduled for Thursday were to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a day nine people were killed while demonstrating in front of the Italian Consulate against a cartoon depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

A third video showed a call for uprising against the repression and humiliation on Feb. 17, 2006. It was subtitled “freedom to the Libyan people” and showed footage from Egypt’s protests along with lists of Libyans who had been killed in previous protests.

“The people want the execution of the leader,” it said.

JANA , the official news agency, quoted a statement from the pro-Kadafi demonstrators as pledging to ” defend the leader and the revolution.”

The statement described the anti-government protesters as” coward and traitors.”

Kadafi came to power 1969 through a military coup and since then he has been ruling the country with no parliament or constitution. Although Kadafi claims he is only a revolutionary leader with no official status, he holds absolute power.

The opposition groups say that in practice he has direct control of the country’s politics and its military and security forces.

There have been reports that Kadafi’s security forces have arrested several of the country’s Internet activists.

Ghadafi has been in power for more than 40 years.

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