Anti-government protests hit Libya (Lead)

February 16th, 2011 - 5:08 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Feb 16 (IANS) Hundreds of people in the Libyan city of Benghazi took to the streets following the arrest of a lawyer who was an outspoken critic of the government, BBC reported Wednesday.The lawyer was later reportedly released but the protests continued.

The protests began after the arrest of Fathi Terbil, who represents relatives of prisoners killed allegedly by security forces in Tripoli’s Abu Slim jail in 1996.

BBC said he was held after telling relatives of some inmates that the prison holding them was on fire. A call has been put out on the internet calling for protests across Libya Thursday.

There was no confirmation of the protests in Benghazi but witnesses said that at one stage some 2,000 people were involved.

Stones were thrown at police who responded with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Fourteen people were injured, including 10 police officers, a media report said.

State television, however, showed footage of several hundred people in Benghazi voicing their support for the government.

One witness told the BBC: “A couple of people in the crowd started chanting anti-government slogans and the crowd took that on. But then, there were clashes with pro-government supporters and then after a bit the pro-government supporters were dispersed and then the security services arrived and they dispersed the crowds with hot-water cannons.”

The Middle East has seen a wave of protests, fuelled by discontent over unemployment, rising living costs, corruption and autocratic leaderships.

Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in January while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned Feb 11.

There also have been anti-government demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain and Iran.

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