CAIRO, (AFP) — Libyan security forces have killed more than 80 people over three days of protests, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday, after Tripoli pledged to crush opposition.
“Security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they’re demanding change and accountability,” said the New York-based HRW, citing telephone interviews with local hospital staff and witnesses.
It said thousands of demonstrators had poured out onto the streets in Benghazi and other eastern cities on Friday, a day after clashes in which 46 people were killed.
“Hospital sources told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on February 18, almost all with live ammunition,” raising the tally to more than 80.
Libya’s attorney general, Abdelrahman al-Abbar, has ordered an inquiry into the violence focused on the east of the country, an official in Tripoli told AFP on Saturday, on condition of anonymity.
The prosecutor has called for “procedures to be expedited to judge all those who were guilty of death or looting,” the source said.
In Benghazi, a flashpoint of opposition to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, demonstrators on Friday set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station after the building’s guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source told AFP.
And Libyan newspaper Quryna reported on Friday that some 1,000 inmates had escaped from a Benghazi prison, while a security source told AFP four inmates were shot dead during a breakout bid in Tripoli.
According to a toll compiled by AFP from local sources, at least 41 people have been killed since demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday. That toll excludes two policemen reportedly hanged in Al-Baida on Friday.
At least 24 were gunned down in Benghazi and Al-Baida on a “day of anger” on Thursday, according to HRW.
Security forces circled Al-Baida on Friday, a source close to the authorities told AFP, following Internet reports that protesters had seized control of Al-Baida.
Another well-informed local source told AFP that 14 civilians, including protesters and members of the Revolutionary Committees, the backbone of Khadafi’s regime, had been killed in Al-Baida.
“The response of the people and the Revolutionary Forces to any adventures by these small groups will be sharp and violent,” the Revolutionary Committees had warned on the website of its newspaper, Azzahf Al-Akhdar (Green March).
On Friday, US President Barack Obama condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, while Britain, France and the European Union urged Libyan authorities to exercise restraint.
Britain warned its citizens against all but essential travel to eastern Libya and France said it had suspended authorisation of exports of security equipment to the North African nation.
After regime opponents had as in Egypt been using Facebook to mobilise demonstrations, the social networking website was blocked on Saturday and Internet connections patchy, according to an AFP reporter in Tripoli.
Arbor Networks, a US-based tracker of online traffic, said Internet services were cut overnight.
Kadhafi, 68, is the longest-serving leader in the Arab world. His oil-producing North African state is sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt, whose long-time leaders have been toppled by popular uprisings.