TRIPOLI (AFP) – Fourteen people were injured in clashes in the city of Benghazi, a Libyan newspaper said on Wednesday, as the country braced for a “Day of Anger” following the revolts in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.
The paper, Quryna, said 14 people were injured in the clashes between security forces and demonstrators in the eastern city of Benghazi late on Tuesday, in what it branded the work of “saboteurs” among the protesters.
Security forces intervened to halt a confrontation between supporters of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who has been in power for more than 40 years, and the demonstrators, it said.
The veteran leader is facing rare Internet calls for protests on Thursday by activists buoyed by the ouster of veteran strongmen on its eastern and western borders, in Egypt and Tunisia.
One of the Facebook groups calling for a “Day of Anger” in Libya and anti-regime protest that had 4,400 members on Monday more than doubled in number to 9,600 by Wednesday morning after the Benghazi unrest.
Three demonstrators and 10 members of the security forces were injured, a hospital director said, quoted in Quryna, which is close to Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, without identifying the other casualty.
None of the injuries was serious, it said.
The protest was started by families of prisoners killed in a 1996 shooting in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison demanding the release of their lawyer, Fethi Tarbel, the paper said.
A website, Libya Al-Youm, said earlier that the unrest prompted a show of strength by supporters of Kadhafi in a number of cities.
Police had used force to disperse the crowd gathered outside a police post in Benghazi, it said, while the BBC quoted witnesses as saying stones were thrown at police who responded with tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
Tarbel, who had been arrested for unknown reasons, was freed under pressure from the families, according to Quryna.
But the crowd of protesters grew and they began chanting anti-regime slogans such as “The people will end the corruption” and “The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain,” before police moved in to disperse them.
Soon afterwards, state television showed hundreds of demonstrators in the streets of Benghazi as well as Tripoli, Syrte and Sebha in support for Kadhafi, who seized power in a 1969 coup which ousted a Western-backed monarchy.
It broadcast footage of pro-regime demonstrators on foot and in cars, waving Libyan flags and portraits of Kadhafi. They chanted slogans against the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, accused by the regime of having incited revolts.
Thursday’s protest has been called to commemorate the deaths of 14 protesters in 2006 in an Islamist rally in Benghazi.
Like protest movements elsewhere in the Middle East, dissidents have been using the Internet in a bid to rally support in a country where the media are tightly controlled by the state.
Under the banner “The February 17 Intifada (Uprising): A Day of Strikes in Libya,” one Facebook group has called for a popular uprising.
Another group of nearly 8,000 members called for Libyans to take to the streets for a “Day of Anger against corruption and nepotism.”
A total of 69 people were also wounded in the 2006 protest in which the consulate of former colonial power Italy was targeted by demonstrators angry at cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.