Just headlines for now, but unfortunately the escalation in Bahrain has now spread, as anticipated, to cities in Libya. Dow Jones reports that Libyan protesters have hung two policemen in Al Baida. We will bring more when we see it, but we expect reprisals by the authorities to be harsh and prompt. In addition, in a country that has far less infrastructure than Egypt, and where mass communication and organization is more problematic, protesters have managed to capture a radio station, whose live transmission can be heard streaming here. And while Tripoli has so far not seen the violence of Cairo, the same can not be said for Libya’s second largest city. Per Reuters: “Soldiers sought to put down unrest in Libya’s second city on Friday and opposition forces said they were fighting troops for control of a nearby town after crackdowns which Human Rights Watch said killed 24 people. Opponents of Gaddafi had designated Thursday a day of rage to try to emulate uprisings sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East. Unrest continued well into the night.” We are surprised that Hillary Clinton has not yet issued a statement requesting that all Libyan, Bahraini, Iranian, and now Djiboutian protesters peacefully disperse and go their home and iPads.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he was “deeply concerned” about reports of violence from Bahrain, a close U.S. ally, Libya and Yemen and urged governments to show restraint in dealing with protesters.
The demonstrations have been focused in the country’s east, including its second largest city, Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has been historically weaker than in the rest of the country. The area is largely cut-off from international media.
“Last night was very hard, there were a lot of people in the street, thousands of people. I saw soldiers in the street,” a resident who lives on Benghazi’s main thoroughfare, Nasser Street, told Reuters.
“I heard shooting. I saw one person fall down (from a gunshot wound) but I don’t have a figure for casualties.”
The privately-owned Quryna newspaper, based in Benghazi, said security forces overnight fired live bullets at protesters, killing 14 of them. It published photographs of several people lying on hospital stretchers with bloodstained bandages.
Two Swiss-based exile groups said anti-government forces, joined by defecting police, were battling with security forces for control of the town of Al Bayda, 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Benghazi and scene of deadly clashes this week.
A opposition activist in Al Bayda told Reuters the town was calm after the burial of 14 people killed in Thursday’s protests. “A massacre took place here yesterday,” said the man. The death toll he gave could not be verified.
Ashour Shamis, a London-based Libyan journalist, said protesters had stormed Benghazi’s Kuwafiyah prison on Friday and freed dozens of political prisoners. Quryna said 1,000 prisoners had escaped and 150 had been recaptured.
Tripoli, which has for now been spared, may be the next to fall:
The capital Tripoli has been calmer, with Gaddafi supporters staging demonstrations of their own. The leader appeared in the early hours of Friday briefly at Green Square in the center of Tripoli, surrounded by crowds of supporters. He did not speak.
A sermon at Friday prayers in Tripoli, broadcast on state television, urged people to ignore reports in foreign media “which doesn’t want our country to be peaceful, which … is the aim of Zionism and imperialism, to divide our country.”
Gaddafi’s opponents, using social media networks Facebook and Twitter, had called for new protests after Friday prayers, when most Libyan men visit the mosque.
The Libyan government, instead of paying citizens like its wealthier gulf country neighbors, is instead sending text messages to people to thank them for not rioting:
Text messages sent to mobile phone subscribers thanked people who ignored calls to join protests. “We congratulate our towns which understood that interfering with national unity threatens the future of generations,” it said.
According to some, Libyan tensions are not as big as those in Egypt, and the country may avoid the same fate:
Libya-watchers say the situation is different from Egypt, because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems. Gaddafi is respected in much of the country, though support for him is weaker in the Cyrenaica region around Benghazi.
“For sure there is no national uprising,” said Noman Benotman, a former opposition Libyan Islamist who is based in Britain but is currently in Tripoli. “I don’t think Libya is comparable to Egypt or Tunisia. Gaddafi would fight to the very last moment,” he said by telephone from the Libyan capital.
We are confident that the long weekend will confirm or deny this hypothesis.