At least two people have been killed in clashes between Libyan security forces and demonstrators in the town of Bayda, east of Benghazi, the second largest city, as activists plan major anti-government protests throughout the country on Thursday.
The victims’ names were: Khaled ElNaji Khanfar and Ahmad Shoushaniya.
Wednesday’s deaths come as hundreds of protesters have reportedly torched police outposts in the eastern city of Beyida, while chanting: “People want the end of the regime.”
At least 38 people were also injured in the clashes, including ten security officials.
“All the people of Beyida are out on the streets,” said 25-year-old Rabie al-Messrati, who said he had been arrested after spreading a call for protests on Facebook.
Inspired by popular and successful uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan protesters are seeking an end to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule, one of the longest and most repressive leaders in the world.
Online calls of dissent have been growing rapidly over the past few days, with Facebook groups calling for “Uprising on February 17” doubling in popularity.
In the southern city of Zentan, 120km south of the capital Tripoli, hundreds of people marched through the streets and set fire to security headquarters and a police station, then set up tents in the heart of the town, as a wave of unrest spread south and westwards across the country.
Chants including “No God but Allah, Muammar is the enemy of Allah,” can be heard on videos of demonstrations uploaded to YouTube. Independent confirmation was not possible as Gaddafi’s government keeps tight control over the movements of media personnel.
With internet access severely limited, protesters have taken to Twitter to spread details on how to bypass government clampdowns. Social media sites, which became the tools of choice across the Middle East, were reportedly blocked for several hours through the afternoon, but access was restored in the evening.
Al Jazeera is understood to have been taken taken off the state-owned cable TV network, but is still reportedly available on satellite networks.
Old wounds stoke fresh unrest
The rare protests in Libya reportedly began after relatives of those killed in a prison massacre about 15 years ago took to the streets. They were joined by scores of supporters.
The relatives were said to have been angered by the detention of Fathi Terbil, human rights lawyer and official spokesman of the victims’ families, who was arrested by the Libyan security forces, for no apparent reason.
However, Terbil was later released, according to reports.
Twelve-hundred prisoners were killed in the Abu Slim prison massacre on June 29, 1996, after they had objected to their inhumane conditions inside the prison.
Those killed were buried in the prison’s courtyard and in mass graves in Tripoli. The families of the victims have been demanding that the culprits be punished, but the Libyan government ignored these demands.
Mohammed Maree, an Egyptian blogger, said “Gaddafi’s regime has not listened to such pleas and continues to treat the Libyan people with lead and fire.”
“This is why we announce our solidarity with the Libyan people and the families of the martyrs until the criminals are punished, starting with Muammer and his family.”
Calls for reform
Much like other countries engulfed in similar wave of pro-democracy protests, the US state department on Wednesday said it urged Libya to meet the aspirations of its people.
“Countries across the region have the same kind of challenge in terms of the demographics, the aspirations of their people, the need for reform,” said Philip Crowley, a spokesman. “And we encourage these countries to take specific actions that address the aspirations and the needs and hopes of their people. Libya certainly would be in that same category.”
elations between Libya and the US have seesawed over the last 30 years. The ties were restored in 2004 after Libya renounced its quest for weapons of mass destruction.
Also calling for reforms are some of Libya’s eminent d individuals. A group of prominent figures and members of human rights organisations have demanded the resignation of Gaddafi.
They said that the Libyans have the right to express themselves through peaceful demonstrations without any threat of harassment from the regime.
The demands came in a statement signed by 213 personalities from different segments of the Libyan society, including political activists, lawyers, students, and government officials.
Gadhafi’s government sought to allay further unrest by proposing the doubling of government employees’ salaries and releasing 110 members of the armed – and outlawed – Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who oppose him–tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab regimes in the recent wave of protests.
In a telephone interview with Al Jazeera, Idris Al-Mesmari, a Libyan novelist and writer, said that security officials in civilian clothes came and dispersed protesters in Benghazi using tear gas, batons and hot water.
Al-Mesmari was arrested hours after the interview.
Anti-government activists have vowed to hold the biggest rallies on Thursday in what they call “A Day of Rage.”