Crowds mass in Libyan city after day of 90 deaths


TRIPOLI, Feb 20 (Reuters): Tens of thousands gathered in Benghazi on Sunday for funerals of protesters killed by Libyan security forces as Human Rights Watch said overnight violence had doubled the death toll from four days of clashes to 173.
The unrest, the worst in Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi`s four decades in power, started as a series of protests inspired by popular revolts in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, but was met by a fierce response.
Reporters have not been allowed into the city but piecemeal witness accounts suggest it is in a cycle of violence, where people are killed and then, after funeral processions to bury the dead the next day, security forces shoot more protesters.
“A massacre took place here last night,” one Benghazi resident, who did not want to be named, told Reuters by telephone on Sunday.
He said security forces had used heavy weapons, adding: “Many soldiers and policemen have joined the protesters.”
Another resident, who also declined to be named, told Reuters: “Some 100,000 protesters are now heading for a cemetery to bury dozens of martyrs.”
A Benghazi hospital doctor said victims had suffered severe wounds from high-velocity rifles.
Another witness, a leading tribal figure who requested anonymity, suggested the security forces remained confined to their control center.
“The state`s official presence is absent in the city and the security forces are in their barracks and the city is in a state of civil mutiny,” he told Reuters. “People are running their own affairs.”
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said about 90 people had been killed on Saturday in clashes centered on Benghazi and surrounding towns running into the night, taking the death toll from four days of clashes to 173.
Conflicting accounts were given over poor phone lines but it appeared the streets were under the control of protesters while security forces had pulled back to a high-walled compound, known as the Command Center, from where they were firing.
The witness who spoke of the funeral procession gathering said: “We fear a new massacre because the road leading to the cemetery is not far from a security barracks.
“We will not give up until the regime falls. We call on the United Nations to intervene immediately to stop the massacre.”
Another witness in Benghazi told Reuters thousands of people had performed ritual prayers in front of 60 bodies laid out near Benghazi`s northern court.
He said hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, had come out onto the Mediterranean seafront and the area surrounding the port. “The protesters are here until the regime falls,” he said.


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