Soldiers have been redeployed on the streets of Benghazi, Libya, on Friday after thousands of people took to the streets again on Thursday night to protest over rising unemployment and living costs, and government corruption.
Security forces killed at least 24 protesters on Wednesday and Thursday, sources inside the country have told New York-based Human Rights Watch. Many others were also wounded in the clashes in country’s second largest city.
Violent protests have also spread to five other cities across the country but have not yet reached the capital Tripoli.
The killings happened after opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s leader for more than 40 years, designated Thursday as a day of protest to try to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.
Thousands took to the streets of Benghazi, while activists set up camps in al-Bayda. Activists used social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter to call for the “Day of Rage”.
This week’s protests are the first in Libya, where authorities take a harsh line on any forms of dissent.
The state media in Libya have so far ignored the demonstrations, instead airing images of Libyans waving green flags and shouting in support of Colonel Qaddafi.
The official JANA news agency said the government supporters wanted to affirm their “eternal unity with the brother leader of the revolution.”
Activists supporting Libya’s government have also been out on the streets in Tripoli. They shouted slogans in support of Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
On Thursday, the demonstrators in Green Square shouted: “We are defending Gaddafi and the revolution!” and “The revolution continues!” Others hurled insults at foreign media.
Col Gaddafi briefly visited the square early on Friday, according to images aired by state TV, AFP news agency reports.
According to Human Rights Watch: “subscribers to Libyana, one of two Libyan mobile phone networks, received a text message calling upon ‘nationalist youth’ to go out and ‘defend national symbols’.”
Funerals of some of those killed are expected to be held on Friday in Benghazi and al-Bayda, which is expected to predict further protests.
Colonel Qaddafi has sought to defuse the protests by doubling the salaries of state employees and releasing 110 suspected Islamic militants. It is believed that the protests were sparked when the police arrested a human rights lawyer representing families of 1,000 detainees killed in the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre.
The Middle East has recently seen a wave of protests fuelled by discontent over unemployment, rising living costs, corruption and autocratic leaderships.
This began with the overthrow of Tunisia’s leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in January. Protests in Egypt then lead to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
In recent days there have also been anti-government demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran.