Libya's antigovernment protests escalate on 'day of rage' against Muammar Qaddafi

Libya's leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi tried to appease protesters after fierce clashes Wednesday, but unrest continued today in a proclaimed 'day of rage.' Protests have now reached four cities.

By , Correspondent

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    Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi addresses the crowd before the twilight prayers to commemorate the Maouloud, on February 13, in Tripoli, Libya.
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Protesters in Libya took to the streets for “day of rage” on Thursday, a day after fierce clashes between Libyan security forces and demonstrators. The protests demanding the end of leade

r Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s 41-year-reign are the most recent in a wave of regional uprisings inspired by Tunisia and Egypt's successful deposing of their longtime presidents.

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The Associated Press reports that there were protests in four cities today, including the eastern port of Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city and a cradle of the country's opposition, where at least 14 died and many more were arrested during violent clashes Wednesday.

Qaddafi took power in 1969 through a military coup and has ruled since then without a constitution or elected parliament. In a bid to quell the rare unrest, Qaddafi on Wednesday offered to release 110 suspected Islamic militants and double civil servants’ salaries, the AP reported. The dictator’s proposal mirrors those made by other Arab regimes that faced protests in recent weeks.

As with Libya's Arab neighbors, Qaddafi’s offer seems unlikely to satisfy protesters. Yet at the same time, hundreds of Qaddafi supporters have also rallied in the capital of Tripoli today, reports Voice of America.

Thursday’s protests fall on the anniversary of clashes that took place in Benghazi in 2006, when security forces killed at least 10 people who were protesting outside the city’s Italian consulate. That protest centered on an Italian minister who wore a T-shirt displaying cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the BBC reports.

Plans for Thursday’s protests circulated this week on Facebook and Twitter. Al Jazeera reports that while social networking sites were blocked for several hours Wednesday afternoon, Libyans were able to access the sites again in the evening.

A Facebook group calling for a “day of anger” saw its membership more than double this week, from 4,400 members on Monday to 9,600 on Wednesday, according to Al Jazeera. On another website – Libya Our Home, which is based outside of Libya – Libyans and foreigners alike urged the protesters to stand strong against the government today.

“From every square in our beloved country, people should all come together in one city and one square to make this regime and its supporters afraid, and force them to run away because they are cowards,” one post read, according to an MSNBC translation from the website.

Protests began Tuesday after the arrest of human rights advocate Fathi Tarbel, the Washington Post reports, and quickly took on an antigovernment tone. Although the initial protest was small, it showed that Libyans were emboldened by protests elsewhere. Mr. Tarbel was released, but protests continued.

On Wednesday, demonstrators gathered in Benghazi and nearby Beyida to call for Qaddafi’s resignation and the establishment of a constitution, among other political and economic reforms. Marchers set fire to police stations and security headquarters, according to witnesses who spoke to The Washington Post.

The government’s response to the protesters was swift, Al Jazeera reports. In a phone interview with Al Jazeera, Libyan writer Idros Al-Mesmari said security officials disguised in civilian clothing broke up the protests in Benghazi using tear gas, batons, and hot water. Mr. Al Mesmari was arrested hours after the interview.

The Geneva-based organization Human Rights Solidarity said that snipers on rooftops were shooting at the protesters on Wednesday, while Libya Watch, a London-based human rights group, said that “Internal security forces and militias of the Revolutionary Committees used live ammunition to disperse a peaceful demonstration by the youth of Al-Baida,” according to Agence France-Presse.

It is unclear how many protesters were killed this week. According to the Associated Press, antigovernment websites are reporting that at least four were killed in Wednesday’s protest in Beyida, while Al Jazeera could confirm only the deaths of two protesters.

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