Bahrain protesters reoccupy square, while Libya protests continue
Jubilant and newly confident Bahrain protesters poured back into Pearl Square Saturday after the Army withdrew. In Libya, protests were met with deadly force and Internet access was cut.
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Here in Bahrain, the monarchy's crown prince, who the king delegated Friday to lead a national dialogue, began negotiations with some opposition groups including Shiite leaders in this Sunni-led country, Bahraini officials suggested Saturday.Skip to next paragraph
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The call for dialogue came after a dramatic showdown between the Army and the protesters for control of the square a day earlier. The Army fired live ammunition and tear gas, injuring at least 66 people and raising the ire of protesters.
President Obama called the US-backed king Friday evening and "strongly urged the government of Bahrain to show restraint, and to hold those responsible for the violence accountable," the White House said in a statement.
The bloodshed marked a major escalation in the crisis, which began Monday in Manama with a protest for democratic reforms. It was inspired by the popular revolts that drove out the aging despotic rulers of Egypt and Tunisia. Those revolts are fueling anti-regime movements across the volatile region.
The reopening of the square was "a milestone," said Ebrahim Sharif, an opposition leader for Waad, one of the main opposition groups. Constitutional reforms and the resignation of top government leaders must come next, he said.
"The government has to show that they are serious, that they are not doing this just for the international community," Sharif said.
The opposition is calling for a general strike Monday.
In Libya, government mercenaries, many natives of nearby African countries, were attacking demonstrators, according to Libyan expatriates and reports on social networking sites. One video showed a dead African man, dressed in camouflage and spattered with blood, being hauled into what appeared to be a hospital.
Human Rights Watch reported that Libya's political and economic capital, Tripoli, remained quiet compared to the east of the country. On Friday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the eastern cities of Benghazi, Baida, Ajdabiya, Zawiya, and Derna. Those gatherings followed what Human Rights Watch described as "violent attacks against peaceful protest" on Thursday that killed 20 people in Benghazi, 23 in Baida, three in Ajdabiya, and three in Derna. Hospital sources told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on Friday, almost all with live ammunition.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces wearing distinctive yellow uniforms opened fire on protesters near the Fadil Bu Omar Katiba, a security force base in the center of Benghazi. One protester told Human Rights Watch he witnessed four men shot dead. In Baida, further to the east, protesters on Friday buried the 23 people who had been shot dead the day before. One protester told Human Rights Watch that police were patrolling the streets but he had seen no further clashes.
Warren P. Strobel and Erika Bolstad contributed from Washington.