Libyan forces fired machine-guns at mourners marching in a funeral for anti-government protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi Sunday, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries loyal to longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi pummeled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry.
A doctor at one city hospital said his morgue had received at least 200 dead from six days of unrest.
The doctor said his hospital, one of two in Libya’s second-largest city, is out of supplies and cannot treat more than 70 wounded in similar attacks on mourners Saturday and other clashes.
The crackdown in oil-rich Libya is shaping up to be the most brutal repression of anti-government protests that began with uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The protests spread quickly around the region to Bahrain in the Gulf, impoverished Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, the North African neighbors of Tunisia — Libya, Algeria, Morocco — and outside the Middle East to places including the East African nation of Djibouti and even China.
Libya’s rebellion by those frustrated with Gadhafi’s more than 40 years of authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen cities. Benghazi has been at the center of unrest.
But getting reliable information about the chaotic situation is difficult. Journalists cannot work freely. Information about the uprising has come through telephone interviews, along with videos and messages posted online, and through opposition activists in exile.
In a Saturday report, the official Libyan news agency said authorities have arrested “dozens of foreign elements trained to strike at Libya’s stability and security.” It said an investigation already was under way. It also said authorities were not ruling out that those elements were connected to what it called an Israeli plot to destabilize countries in North Africa, including Libya, as well as Lebanon and Iran.
Before Saturday’s violence, Human Rights Watch estimated at least 84 people had been killed.
Bahrain’s opposition wants the nation’s rulers to guarantee they will back up their conciliatory words with actions, a Shiite leader said Sunday as he and other activists weighed the regime’s offer for talks after nearly a week of protests and deadly clashes that have divided the Gulf nation.
The streets in the tiny but strategically important island kingdom were calmer as efforts shifted toward political haggling over demands for the monarchy to give up its near-absolute control over key policies and positions.
But bitterness and tensions still run deep after seesaw battles that included riot police opening fire on protesters trying to reclaim a landmark square and then pulling back to allow them to occupy the site. At least seven people have been killed and hundreds injured since the Arab wave for change reached the Gulf last Monday.
Bahrain’s rulers appear desperate to open a political dialogue after sharp criticism from Western allies and statements by overseers of next month’s Formula One race that the unrest could force the cancellation of Bahrain’s premier international event.
Opposition leaders appear to be in no hurry to talk.
……No violence was reported Sunday, but many parts of the country were paralyzed by a general strike called by opposition groups and workers’ unions.
At state-run Gulf Air, union leaders urged workers to join the strike. But an e-mail to employees by the airline’s director warned that any no-shows could face dismissal. The carrier said no flights have been disrupted.
In an apparent attempt to discourage protesters, an Iranian pro-government news agency claimed on Sunday that armed opposition groups plan to fire on people participating in a rally set for Sunday afternoon.
The report from the hardline Fars news agency said that teams from the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group, have entered the country to shoot people during the protest.
Iran’s opposition has called for a rally Sunday to mark a week since the deaths of two people in Feb. 14 clashes between security forces and opposition protesters in Tehran. The opposition maintains the dead were killed by government forces.
Last week’s rally called by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in solidarity with the Egyptian uprising was the largest demonstration by the opposition in more than a year.
On Sunday Karroubi sent an open letter to judiciary reaffirming his backing for opposition demands on his website Sahamnews.net.
“God willing, there will be no doubt in Mahdi Karroubi continuing to defend the rights of Iranian people and I will stand by the people until my final moment,” the statement said.
The opposition leader said hundreds of hardliners have gathered in front of his home over the past night and filled the air with anti-opposition chants and threats to his life.
Both opposition leaders have been under tight house arrest since calling the 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fraudulent.
Hundreds of thousand of people poured into the streets in protest to the result of the election. Opposition says scores were killed in massive crackdown on the protest demonstration. Government brought the number to about 30.
Authorities detained hundreds and sentenced about 80 of them to prison terms from six months to 15 years.
Pay close attention to the difference between grassroots protests and the chaos fostered by union groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, and leftwing activists. Power loves a vacuum.