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West Asia unrest brews

Govt crackdown on protests in Arab world has turned increasingly violent.

world Updated: Feb 19, 2011 00:53 IST

Govt crackdown on protests in Arab world has turned increasingly violent.

Gaddafi Rallies Supporters
Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi drove through his nation’s capital in a motorcade, drawing a cheering crowd as the long-time ruler tried to rally support amid reports of widening anti-government protests.

Protests have erupted in several cities in Libya this week, especially in the east, and the US-based Human Rights Watch said Friday that 24 people were killed in unrest on Wednesday and Thursday.

Gaddafi’s open-roofed car slowly made its way through the streets of the capital Tripoli late Thursday. In footage broadcast by Libyan TV, the motorcade was thronged by cheering supporters. Some pushed toward the car to try to reach Gaddafi and shake hands. “We do not want any other leader but Gaddafi!” one woman shouted.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, hundreds of protesters camped out Friday in the center of the city. Calls to join funeral processions for those killed in clashes with pro-government forces spread on Facebook and websites.

One of the protesters, Nizar Jebail, owner of an advertising company, said he spent the night in front of the city’s court building. He said he wants not just reforms, “but freedom and equality.”

The wave of protests that has swept across West Asia has brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gaddafi who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.

The move to restore Gaddafi’s image came as the Libyan opposition said police in some cities had gone over to the protesters.

Bahrain troops shoot protesters
Bahraini troops shot at demonstrators on Friday and wounded many, a former Shi’ite lawmaker said, as government crackdowns on protests in West Asia and North Africa turned increasingly violent.

Bahraini troops shot at protesters near Pearl Square on Friday and wounded many a day after police forcibly cleared a protest camp from the traffic circle in Manama, killing 4 people and wounding more than 230.

Several thousand mourners turned out in Bahrain on Friday to bury three of those killed in what the island’s top Shi’ite cleric called a “massacre” ordered by the Sunni ruling family to crush protests inspired by Egypt.

Revered cleric Sheikh Issa Qassem denounced the police attack on the square and said the authorities had shut the door to dialogue, but stopped short of calling for street protests.

"The massacre was on purpose to kill and to hurt and not to clear any demonstration," he said. People interrupted his Friday prayer sermon in the village of Diraz, shouting “The people want the fall of the regime."

The mostly Shi’ite demonstrators had hoped to turn Pearl Square into a base like Cairo’s Tahrir Square, fulcrum of the popular revolt that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In a loyalist demonstration in Manama, hundreds of pro-government supporters, waving flags and pictures of the king, streamed through streets, local TV footage showed.

Clashes flare up in Yemen
Riot police fired shots in the air and used tear gas against thousands of government opponents who also clashed with supporters of Yemen’s longtime ruler on what protest organizers billed as a nationwide “Friday of Rage.” At least four people were wounded.

Riots also flared overnight in the southern port of Aden, the country’s second-largest city, with police shooting to death one demonstrator after cars and a local government building were set ablaze, officials said.

Tens of thousands rallied in the southern city of Taiz, a hotbed of dissent. It was the eighth straight day of protests in Yemen inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Demonstrators in the Arab world’s poorest country are calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh - a key US ally in fighting al Qaeda terrorists - who has ruled the country for 32 years.

Organizers using social media sites Facebook and Twitter in summoning people to the streets for the “Friday of Rage” following noon prayer, and thousands responded.

A preacher at the Sanaa University mosque spoke out against torture and beating of demonstrators, telling protesters who had gathered there: “We have been living for 30 years without purpose or hope.”

One protester was shot dead as police tried to disperse crowds in Aden, witnesses said, and another person was killed and seven wounded when a hand grenade was thrown from a car into a crowd in Taiz, south of the capital Sanaa.