Libyan protesters return to street after Saturday's 'massacre'

Government forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi reportedly opened fire on a funeral procession Saturday, killing more than 20.

Libyan TV/Reuters
Libya's leader Muammar al Gaddafi gesturing to supporters during a rally in Nalut, Saturday. The death toll from four days of violence against Libyan protesters continued to rise, Saturday, after government forces opened fire on a funeral procession, killing more than 20.

• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Protesters are returning to the streets in Libya's second-largest city of Benghazi Sunday, despite violence the day before that left more than 20 people dead at the hands of government troops in what witnesses called a "massacre."

The violence is just the latest in the recent unrest in Libya, where more than 100 people have died protesting against the regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

Hundreds of protesters have gathered at a square outside a court building in Benghazi, reports the Associated Press, just a day after government forces opened fire with heavy weaponry on a funeral march.

The BBC reports that Saturday's violence was triggered when a funeral procession passed a major security compound in Benghazi, the epicenter of anti-government protests. Witnesses say government forces opened fire on the mourners with heavy machine guns, mortars, and even a missile. Human Rights Watch put the overall death toll in the Libyan protests at more than 100, though the organization called its figure conservative.

The Daily Telegraph posted video footage from the violence in Benghazi, showing protesters apparently fleeing and carrying wounded civilians.

It was a "massacre," multiple sources told Al Jazeera.

"The military is shooting at all the protesters with live bullets, I've seen it happen with my own eyes," one doctor told the Qatar-based satellite news network. "The military forces are everywhere, even from the hospital I work, we are not safe."

Al Jazeera also notes that the protests appear to be spreading westward, towards Colonel Gaddafi's stronghold in Tripoli. Sources told Al Jazeera that in Misurata, just 100 miles from Tripoli, there were protests against the government's brutality. Mohamed Abdulmalek, the chairman of Libya Watch, said that the lack of protests in western Libya is due to the large security presence there, which is dissuading people from taking to the streets.

In a video posted on Al Jazeera's live blog of events in Libya, British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the reports from Libya "horrifying," and warned the Libyan government that "just because there aren't television cameras present at the scenes that are going on in Libya, that does not mean that the world is not watching, and that doesn't mean that the world is going to ignore the way in which protesters and demonstrators are treated."

There are conflicting reports on the status of Benghazi, writes Reuters, with some witnesses saying Libyan forces have almost no presence in the city aside from a single military compound. But a security source said that the region is "80 percent under control."

Reuters also reports that the government's violent crackdown on protesters prompted a public plea from 50 religious leaders to security forces, as Muslims, to stop using violence against the people.

"This is an urgent appeal from religious scholars (faqihs and Sufi sheikhs), intellectuals, and clan elders from Tripoli, Bani Walid, Zintan, Jadu, Msalata, Misrata, Zawiah, and other towns and villages of the western area," said the appeal.

"We appeal to every Muslim, within the regime or assisting it in any way, to recognize that the killing of innocent human beings is forbidden by our Creator and by His beloved Prophet of Compassion (peace be upon him)... Do NOT kill your brothers and sisters. STOP the massacre NOW!"

Saudi television network Al Arabiya notes that there are reports that Libyan forces have been bolstered by "African mercenaries." Witnesses say that protesters in Benghazi captured a number of mercenaries, who they said were in Libyan military uniforms but spoke French. Libya's national language is Arabic.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.