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UPDATE 8-Clashes reported on Libya "day of rage"
February 17, 2011 / 9:24 AM / in 7 years

UPDATE 8-Clashes reported on Libya "day of rage"

* Libya under scrutiny after revolts in Egypt, Tunisia

* Opponents had called for day of protests

* Pro-Gaddafi demonstration in Tripoli

* Fresh clashes in eastern town of Al Bayda:witness

(Edits, updates with more details on clashes in eastern town)

TRIPOLI, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Clashes broke out in several towns in Libya on Thursday after the opposition called for a day of protests, reports and a witness said, while supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi rallied in the capital.

Gaddafi opponents communicating anonymously online or working in exile had urged people to protest on Thursday to try to emulate popular uprisings which unseated long-serving rulers in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

In the capital of the oil exporting country there was no sign of any demonstrations, a Reuters reporter said, apart from the pro-Gaddafi demonstrators in the city’s Green Square chanting “We are defending Gaddafi!” and waving his portrait.

But a resident of the eastern town of Al Bayda told Reuters there was a confrontation there between government supporters and relatives of two young men killed during a protest a day earlier. Fighting broke out soon after the two were buried.

“The situation is still complicated,” said the resident, who was contacted by telephone and did not want to be identified. “The young people do not want to listen to what the elders say.”

Libya’s Quryna newspaper had earlier reported that the regional security chief was removed from his post over the deaths of the two young men. There were reports oof higher death tolls but they could not be confirmed.

Al Bayda is near Benghazi, Libya’s second city, where protesters clashed with police and Gaddafi supporters on Tuesday night. A resident in the city told Reuters: “Benghazi is quiet.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Libyan authorities had detained 14 activists and writers who had been preparing the anti-government protests, while telephone lines to parts of the country were out or order. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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Snatches of information were trickling out from parts of the country on an Arabic-language Facebook page used by opposition activists, but the sources were not clear and it was not possible to verify the details.

BUILDING ON FIRE

One post said that protesters in Ar Rajban, near the border with Algeria, set fire to a local government headquarters. In Zenten, south-west of Tripoli, protesters shouted “We will win or die,” said another post, which also had a photograph of a building on fire.

In the capital, traffic was moving as normal, banks and shops were open and there was no increased security presence.

Tripoli resident Ahmed Rehibi said anti-governemnt protests were an unecessary distraction. “We should be concentrating on working, on our schools, because now we are trying to build up our infrastructure,” he said.

Analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use oil revenues to smooth over most social problems.

Libya has been tightly controlled for over 40 years by Gaddafi, now Africa’s longest-serving leader, and it has immense oil wealth. But the country has nevertheless felt the ripples from the uprisings in neighbouring states.

“We have problems,” Mustafa Fetouri, a Tripoli-based political analyst and university professor, told Reuters. “This is a society that is still behind in many ways, there are certain legitimate problems that have to be sorted out.”

But he said: “I do not really see it (unrest) spreading... Gaddafi remains well respected.”

Libya bans all political parties, public dissent is rarely tolerated and over his time in office, rights groups say, thousands of Gaddafi’s opponents have been put in prison.

But Gaddafi and his supporters say Libya is a democracy because of his system of direct rule through grass-roots institutions called popular committees.

Opposition activists designated Thursday as a day of protests because it is the anniversary of clashes on Feb. 17, 2006 in Benghazi when security forces killed several protesters who were attacking the city’s Italian consulate.

On the eve of the planned protests, SMS messages were sent to mobile phone subscribers saying: “From the youth of Libya to all those who are tempted to touch the four red lines: come and face us in any square or street in Libya.”

The four red lines, defined in a 2007 speech by one of Gaddafi’s sons, are Islam, security, territorial integrity, and Muammar Gaddafi. (Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Giles Elgood)

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