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Sat 19 Feb 2011 06:44 PM

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Fresh clashes with military as Libyan protesters bury their dead

More than 30 people killed in the city's worst night of violence for four decades, security forces fire on crowds

Fresh clashes with military as Libyan protesters bury their dead
A large crowd got into a confrontation with security forces during a funeral procession to bury people killed in the crackdown (Getty Images)

Security forces in Libya's second city, Benghazi, fired in the air on Saturday to disperse a crowd mourning protesters killed in the worst unrest of Muammar Gaddafi's four decades in power, a resident said.

Human Rights Watch said 35 people were killed in the city late on Friday, in the worst night of violence since protests started this week to try to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

Mirroring the pattern of violence on previous days in the city, a large crowd got into a confrontation with security forces after a funeral procession to bury people killed in the crackdown, a resident said.

"They tried to attack the security forces but when they heard shots fired in the air they ran away," said the man, who did not want to be identified.

The New York-based watchdog said its tally for the number of dead was now 84 after three days of violence centred on the restive region around Benghazi, 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the capital Tripoli.

Benghazi cleric Abellah al Warfali told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television that he had a list of 16 people being buried on Saturday, most with bullet wounds to the head and chest.

"I saw with my own eyes a tank crushing two people in a car," he said. "They hadn't done any harm to anyone."

The private Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi and has been linked to one of Gaddafi's sons, said 24 people were killed in Benghazi on Friday.

It said security forces had opened fire to stop protesters attacking the police headquarters and a military base where weapons were stored.

"The guards were forced to use bullets," the paper said.

The government has not released any casualty figures or made any official comment on the violence.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had reports that heavy weapons fire and sniper units were being used against demonstrators. "This is clearly unacceptable and horrifying," he said in a statement.

Away from the eastern region, Libya appeared calm. A government-run newspaper blamed the protests on Zionism and the "traitors of the West", while officials said foreign media were exaggerating the scale of the violence in the east.

Libya-watchers say an Egypt-style nationwide revolt is unlikely because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems, and is still respected in much of the country.

Noman Benotman, a former dissident Islamist, told Reuters the government was talking to tribal leaders in Benghazi to try to defuse tensions. But he said if the authorities decided to restore order by force it would be done "toughly".

A Benghazi resident, who lives near the city centre, said shooting could be heard on Friday night and that protesters had attacked and damaged the state-run radio station near his home.

"I heard shooting last night until midnight," the resident told Reuters. "The radio station has been attacked . We do not know what we are going to do."

A security source said clashes were still going on in the region between Benghazi and the town of Al Bayda, about 200 km away, where local people said dozens had also been killed by security forces in the past 72 hours.

"The situation in the eastern area from Al Bayda to Benghazi is 80 percent under control. A lot of police stations have been set on fire or damaged," the security source told Reuters. He also said: "Please do not believe what foreign radio and television are saying. Their information is not accurate."

Foreign journalists have not been allowed to enter Libya since the unrest began, local reporters have been barred from travelling to Benghazi and mobile phone connections have frequently been out of service.

Al Jazeera said its signal was being jammed on several frequencies and its website had been blocked in Libya.

The state-run newspaper Alzahf Alakhdar, or Green March, published an editorial under the title: "No leader except Gaddafi!" and sent a defiant message to his opponents.

"Our people are today more determined to face their challenges and to confront all the dirty plans and the conspiracies designed by America and Zionism and the traitors of the West."

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