Anti-regime protests in Libya spread on Sunday as a brutal crackdown killed scores of demonstrators, while Bahrain came under fresh pressure to introduce reforms and thousands rallied for change in Morocco.
New fighting erupted in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi as protests against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi crept nearer to the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Human Rights Watch said it feared a catastrophe, with more than 100 people dead in a bloody crackdown. The BBC reported the claims of doctors that over 200 had been killed, with a doctor telling the network that a ‘real massacre’ had taken place.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Arab nations to speak out and said he would raise the iron-fisted crackdown with EU ministers beginning a two-day meeting in Brussels late on Sunday.
Libya bluntly warned the European Union it will “suspend cooperation” in the fight against illegal immigration if the bloc does not stop fanning pro-democracy protests, the EU presidency said.
When the ambassador of Hungary, which holds the EU chair until the end of June, was summoned by Tripoli on Thursday, it was “signalled” to Europe that “if the EU were to continue to encourage demonstrations, Libya would suspend its cooperation with the EU in the fight against illegal immigration”.
Libyan security forces clashed with anti-regime protesters in the Mediterranean city of Misrata, 200km from Tripoli, witnesses said.
Demonstrators took to the streets there to show support for residents of Benghazi, 1000km from the capital, who have endured the brunt of a crackdown in eastern Libya, they said.
The witnesses said Libyan security forces backed by “African mercenaries” had been shooting into the crowds “without discrimination”.
In Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, there were protests against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule and new fighting, lawyer Mohammed al-Mughrabi told AFP by telephone.
“Lawyers are demonstrating outside the Northern Benghazi court; there are thousands here. We have called it Tahrir Square Two,” he said, referring to the Cairo square central to protests that brought down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Separately, others are “storming the garrison” and “taking fire from snipers,” Mughrabi said, without elaborating.
“At least 200 have been killed altogether (since the outbreak of unrest this week) but we can’t verify from hospital. We are pleading for the Red Cross to send field hospitals. We can’t take it any more.”
Pressure in Bahrain
Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim ruling family came under increased pressure to open in-depth negotiations with the Shi’ite-led opposition on Sunday, as protesters stayed camped out in the capital Manama’s Pearl Square.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for immediate reforms and blasted as unacceptable any violence by the Gulf kingdom’s security forces.
“Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible,” she told ABC’s This Week program in an interview conducted on Friday.
Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has offered to open a sweeping national dialogue with the opposition, after a deadly police raid on Pearl Square on Thursday, which was followed by the army deploying to quell anti-government protests.
Morocco became the latest in a string of Arab nations rocked by protest, as thousands gathered in several cities demanding political reform and limits on the powers of King Mohammed VI.
Between 3000 and 4000 people demonstrated in the capital Rabat, shouting “The people want change” and denouncing corruption.
In Casablanca, the North African nation’s biggest city, more than 4000 people came out demanding “Freedom, dignity, justice”, an AFP correspondent reported.
Demonstrations in other Moroccan cities, including Marrakesh and the port of Tangier, were peaceful as of early Sunday afternoon.
Thousands of young Moroccans have joined the “February 20” movement on the social networking site Facebook, calling for peaceful demonstrations demanding a new constitution limiting the king’s powers and more social justice.
Around 60 people rallied in the Spanish capital Madrid in solidarity, waving Moroccan and Berber flags alongside banners demanding an end to “corruption and police repression”.
Other demonstrations were planned in Barcelona and Paris.
Unrest in Tehran
In Tehran, police fired tear gas as anti-government demonstrators took to the streets of the capital and other Iranian cities, opposition websites said.
State news agency IRNA reported that the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was arrested for “provocative behaviour”, and Fars agency said she was held while “leading a number of anti-revolutionaries and rioters”.
Citing witnesses, opposition website Rahesabz深圳桑拿网, said: “Police fired tear gas as a cat-and-mouse game began in Vali Asr Square” in Tehran.
Crowds of demonstrators were shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), the Sahamnews深圳桑拿, website of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi said.
It also reported gatherings in the central city of Isfahan and the southern city of Shiraz, while Fars reported that Iran’s second largest city of Mashhad in the northeast was calm.
Fars said that “calm” prevailed in Tehran because security forces were present in “full strength”.
Foreign media have been banned from covering any opposition gatherings.