Hundreds of supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gathered in the capital, Tripoli, Thursday as activists called for nationwide protests against the long-time leader.
Expatriate opposition leaders, Libyan human rights groups and online activists are using the social networking website Facebook to call for “day of rage” protests, following clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces. Those calling for the action are drawing encouragement from uprisings that ousted authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks.
Organizers say they want to commemorate February 17, the anniversary of two bloody episodes in Mr. Gadhafi’s nearly 42-year reign. On that day in 1987, Libya publicly executed nine young men accused of treason. In 2006, Libyan police violently put down a protest outside the Italian consulate in Benghazi, killing more than 10.
Opposition website Libya Al-Youm said Thursday four people were killed in clashes with security forces Wednesday in Beyida.
Hundreds of protesters clashed with police Wednesday in the country’s second-largest city, Benghazi. They were demanding the release of a human rights activist who represented the victims of a 1996 massacre at Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison. Many of the demonstrators were relatives of the victims.
Local media reports say protesters threw fire bombs and stones, and set cars on fire in clashes that left dozens injured. Police fired rubber bullets to contain the crowds.
The Associated Press reported that in the southern city of Zentan, hundreds marched through the streets and set fire to security headquarters and a police station.
Libyan state television ignored the demonstrations, instead showing images of 12 pro-government rallies in Benghazi, the capital, Tripoli, and other cities.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said nine activists have been arrested in Tripoli and Benghazi in an effort to prevent people from joining the rallies called for Thursday.
The outbreak of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran has roiled the Middle East and brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Mr. Gadhafi, who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.
The Libyan leader took power in 1969, leading a coup against a Western-backed monarchy.