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Libya crackdown claims 84 lives

Atul Aneja

Yemen protesters too face ire shot in the arm for Bahrainis

DUBAI: Pro-democracy activists in Libya, inspired by democratic transitions in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, are facing a harsh crackdown. With brute force and a blinding media blackout, the regime is trying to put down the revolt, which has already left scores of people dead.

Using mostly live ammunition, security forces have already killed 84 people demonstrating for greater freedoms in eastern Libya, with the city of Benghazi as the epicentre.

Thirty-five protesters were gunned down in Benghazi alone, making Friday the bloodiest day since pro-democracy demonstrations began on February 14. Human Rights Watch said the build-up to Friday's bloodbath began the day before when 20 protesters died in police firings.

On Friday, as funeral processions were on their way, the security forces, wearing distinctive yellow uniforms, opened fire outside a central Benghazi security force base. By 11 p.m., an overwhelmed Al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi had received 35 bodies.

In Yemen, the authorities continue to confront protesters, either directly, or through state-sponsored militias. On Saturday, armed supporters of President Abdullah Saleh opened fire on a group of pro-democracy campaigners, wounding at least four.

Notwithstanding these vicious crackdowns, there was some good news for protesters in West Asia, from tiny, but strategically significant Bahrain, where die-hard pro-democracy activists on Saturday re-took the iconic Pearl Roundabout. Braving teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets fired by riot police, the protesters, in their thousands, claiming victory, streamed into the square, triggering uproarious celebrations in capital Manama.

With the withdrawal of the army, a precondition set by the protesters, already accomplished, there are encouraging signs that a dialogue between the protesters and the authorities could now begin soon.

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