By Arab News
Members of a Libyan Army unit told Benghazi residents on Sunday they had defected and “liberated” Libya’s second city from troops supporting veteran leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Habib Al-Obaidi, who heads the intensive care unit at the main Al-Jalae hospital, and lawyer Mohamed Al-Mana, told Reuters members of the “Thunderbolt” squad had arrived at the hospital with soldiers wounded in clashes with Qaddafi’s personal guard. “They are now saying that they have overpowered the Praetorian Guard and that they have joined the people’s revolt,” Al-Mana said by telephone.
Obaidi said the bodies of 50 people killed on Sunday had arrived at the hospital in the late afternoon. Most had died from bullet wounds.
As the dramatic events unfolded in his country, Libya’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Abdel Moneim Al-Honi, said he has quit his position in order to “join the revolution.” “I have submitted my resignation in protest against the acts of repression and violence against demonstrators (in Libya) and I am joining the ranks of the revolution,” Honi said.
The 50 people were killed Sunday when Libyan forces fired machine guns at mourners marching in a funeral for anti-government protesters, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries loyal to Qaddafi pummeled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry.
A doctor at one Benghazi hospital said earlier that his morgue had received at least 200 dead from six days of unrest. The doctor said his hospital, one of two in the city, is out of supplies and cannot treat more than 70 wounded in similar attacks on mourners Saturday and other clashes.
Jamal Eddin Mohammed, a 53-year-old resident of Benghazi, said thousands marched Sunday toward the city’s cemetery to bury at least a dozen protesters. They feared more clashes with the government when they passed by Qaddafi’s residential palace and the regime’s local security headquarters.
A man shot in the leg Sunday said marchers were carrying coffins to a cemetery and were passing by the compound when security forces fired in the air and then aimed at the crowd.
The latest violence in Benghazi followed the same pattern as the crackdown on Saturday, when witnesses said forces loyal to Qaddafi attacked mourners at a funeral for anti-government protesters. They were burying 35 marchers who were slain Friday by government forces.
On Saturday, witnesses told The Associated Press a mix of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Qaddafi loyalists assaulted demonstrators in Benghazi with knives, assault rifles and other heavy weapons.
On Sunday, defiant mourners chanted: “The people demand the removal of the regime,” which became a mantra for protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.
Hatred of Qaddafi’s rule has grown in Benghazi in the past two decades. Anger has focused on the shooting deaths of about 1,200 inmates — most of them political prisoners _ during prison riots in 1996.
A similar scenario took place in other eastern cities, including Al-Baida, which once housed Libya’s Parliament before Qaddafi’s 1969 military coup toppled the monarchy.
Protests spread to the outskirts of the southern city of Zentan and west to Mesrata, Libya’s third-largest city. However, the capital Tripoli, a city of some 2 million people, remained a stronghold of Qaddafi support, with security forces swiftly curbing small protests that erupted in the outskirts. Secret police were heavily deployed on the streets, as residents kept their opinions and emotions secret.
The US-based Arbor Networks reported another Internet service outage in Libya just before midnight Saturday. The company says online traffic ceased in Libya about 2 a.m. Saturday, was restored at reduced levels several hours later, only to be cut off again that night. People in Libya said they can no longer make international telephone calls on their land lines.
Britain has called reports of the use of snipers and heavy weapons against demonstrators in Libya “clearly unacceptable and horrifying.”
Libya has warned the European Union it will “suspend cooperation” in the fight against illegal immigration if the bloc does not stop encouraging pro-democracy protests, the EU presidency said Sunday.
Turkish media reported Sunday that Ankara has repatriated 543 of its nationals from Libya over the weekend, some of whom said they were targeted by rioters during the protests.
Austria announced it was sending a military plane to Malta with a view to evacuating Austrian and European citizens from Libya or other Arab countries following unrest in the region.
A security official said Libyan authorities foiled an attempt by saboteurs to set ablaze oil wells south of the capital at dawn on Sunday and arrested six Libyan suspects. Two Libyan guards deployed to protect oil installations were slightly wounded in the operation at 1:30 a.m. at the Sarir oilfield, the official said.
Supporters of the Libyan uprising demonstrated in Egypt, Switzerland and Washington. In Egypt, exiled Libyans and members of the country’s Press Syndicate have sent urgent medical supplies to Libya.