Libya Toll Rises as Bahrain Protesters Seize Square
MANAMA (AFP) - – Unrest flared anew in the Arab world on Saturday as reports emerged of more than 80 killed in a bloody crackdown in Libya and thousands of Bahraini protesters again seized a key square in the capital.
As Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi faced an unprecedented challenge to his rule, protesters returned to Pearl Square in Bahrain's capital Manama despite police attempts to disperse them with tear gas.
Clashes also continued in Yemen, with one protester shot dead and five wounded in battles between protesters and government supporters near the Sanaa university campus.
As the wave of protests inspired by the ousters of long-serving rulers in Egypt and Tunisia continued to shake regimes across the region, the chief diplomats of Europe and Britain joined US President Barack Obama in urging restraint.
In Libya, where authorities had pledged a "sharp and violent" crushing of the opposition, security forces have killed at least 84 people, Human Rights Watch said.
Citing telephone interviews with witnesses and hospital staff, the New York-based watchdog said security forces used live ammunition on protesters.
It said most of the deaths came in the second city Benghazi, a hotbed of anti-Kadhafi opposition.
"Moamer Kadhafi's security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability," said the watchdog's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Joe Stork.
On the fifth day of the biggest challenge yet to his four-decade regime, Kadhafi had still made no public comment.
The capital itself remained calm on Saturday, a correspondent in Tripoli said, as state television and the official news agency JANA restricted their coverage to reporting pro-regime rallies. Recap of developments in Middle East, North Africa
Kadhafi, 68, has ruled his oil-producing North African nation, sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt, since 1969 and is the Arab world's longest-serving leader.
In Bahrain, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered the army off the streets after the opposition rejected an offer of dialogue unless troops withdrew and the cabinet quit.
Shortly after military vehicles pulled away from Pearl Square, large crowds of demonstrators poured into the area by car and on foot.
Police at first dispersed them with tear gas, but thousands later returned, removing barbed wire and reoccupying the roundabout, an AFP reporter said.
Bahraini police had opened fire on protesters in the Gulf nation's capital Manama on Friday, wounding dozens, as the army announced "strict measures" to restore security in the tiny but strategic Sunni-ruled monarchy shaken by unprecedented demonstrations.
"To consider dialogue, the government must resign and the army should withdraw from the streets," said Abdul Jalil Khalil Ibrahim, parliamentary leader of the Islamic National Accord Association, the largest Shiite opposition bloc.
Bahrain's general labour union also called an indefinite strike to demand the right to hold peaceful protests without the security forces resorting to force.
In Yemen, clashes between protesters and government supporters raged near the capital Sanaa's university campus, as a week of unrest claimed its first victim there.
A student was shot dead as government supporters with guns, batons and rocks tried to break into the campus and students responded by hurling stones, an AFP reporter said.
Five students were also wounded, one seriously, medics said.
Supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh later dispersed the protesters and took control of the area around the campus and surrounding roads, the correspondent said.
Obama on Friday condemned the use of force against protesters, urging "the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests and to respect the rights of their people."
The region is of vital importance to Washington, with Bahrain the home base of the US Fifth Fleet and Yemen a key ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Saturday called for dialogue in Bahrain "without delay," saying she was "deeply concerned by new reports about the use of violence."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also denounced the crackdown in Libya as "clearly unacceptable and horrifying" and urged authorities there and in other countries to refrain from violence.
Saturday also saw about 200 protesters brave riot police to rally in central Algiers, where they chanted "Algeria free and democratic" and "People want the fall of the regime."
An opposition deputy was badly hurt in clashes with riot police.
Fresh clashes, meanwhile, broke out between opposition supporters and police in Djibouti, a day after an unprecedented anti-regime protest ended in violence, an AFP correspondent reported.