Snipers hit mourners in Libya, killing 15
CAIRO — Moammar Khadafy’s forces fired on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters yesterday in the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya, killing at least 15 people and wounding scores more, as the regime tried to squelch calls for an end to the ruler’s 42-year grip on power.
The deaths pushed the overall estimated death toll to 99 in five days of unprecedented protests.
Libyan protesters were back on the street yesterday, but Khadafy has taken a hard line toward the dissent that has ripped through the Middle East and swept him up with it. Government forces also wiped out a protest encampment and clamped down on Internet service throughout Libya.
Snipers fired on thousands of people gathered in Benghazi, a focal point of the unrest, to mourn 35 protesters who were shot on Friday, a hospital official said.
A hospital official said 15 people were killed, including one man who was apparently hit in the head with an antiaircraft missile. The weapons apparently were used to intimidate the population.
The official said many people were shot in the head and chest. The hospital was overwhelmed and people were streaming to the facility to donate blood.
Before yesterday’s violence, Human Rights Watch had estimated 84 people have been killed.
Just after 2 a.m. in Libya, the US-based Arbor Networks security company detected a total cessation of online traffic in the North African country. Protesters confirmed they could not get online.
Information is tightly controlled in Libya, where journalists cannot work freely, and activists this week have posted videos on the Internet that have been an important source of images of the revolt.
Other information about the protests has come from opposition activists in exile. Egyptian officials briefly tried to cut Internet service during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, but that move was unsuccessful.
Libya is more isolated, however, and the Internet is one of the few links to the outside world. The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information released a report back in 2004 that said nearly 1 million people among Libya’s population of about 6 million had Internet access at the time. That was just three years after Internet service had been extended to the public.
About 5 a.m. yesterday, special forces attacked hundreds of protesters, including lawyers and judges, camped out in front of the courthouse in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.
“They fired tear gas on protesters in tents and cleared the areas after many fled carrying the dead and the injured,’’ one protester said over the phone.
Doctors in Benghazi said Friday that 35 bodies had been brought to hospitals after attacks by security forces backed by militias, on top of more than a dozen killed the day before.
Residents of the city set up neighborhood patrols yesterday after police left the streets.
“We don’t see a single policeman in the streets, not even traffic police,’’ a lawyer in Benghazi said.