Citizens, ex-soldiers, labourers protest across Arab world
By: Associated Press
Protests in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired others around the world. Here is a look at the latest.
Egypt-inspired unrest spread against Libya’s longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday, with riot police clashing with protesters in the second-largest city of Benghazi and marchers setting fire to security headquarters and a police station in the city of Zentan, witnesses said.
Gadhafi’s government sought to allay further unrest by proposing the doubling of government employees’ salaries and releasing 110 suspected Islamic militants who oppose him — tactics similar to those used by other Arab regimes in the recent wave of protests.
Activists using Facebook and Twitter have called for nationwide demonstrations on Thursday to demand the ouster of Gadhafi, establishment of a constitution and comprehensive political and economic reforms. Gadhafi came to power in 1969 through a military coup and has ruled the country without an elected parliament or constitution.
The Benghazi protest began Tuesday and lasted until around 4 a.m. Wednesday. It was triggered by the arrest of an activist but quickly took on an anti-government tone, according to witnesses and other activists. The protest was relatively small, but it signalled that anti-government activists have been emboldened by uprisings elsewhere.
It started at the local security headquarters after troops raided the home of rights advocate Fathi Tarbel and took him away, according to Switzerland-based activist Fathi al-Warfali.
Tarbel was released after meeting with security official Abdullah al-Sanousi, but the protesters proceeded to march through the coastal city to the main downtown plaza, he said.
Families of other prisoners marched to security headquarters to protest the detention of Tarbel and another activist, writer Idris al-Mesmari, who remained in jail, al-Warfali reported, citing witnesses.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said a total of nine activists have been arrested in Tripoli and Benghazi in an effort to prevent people from joining Thursday’s rallies. Those protests were called to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the killing of nine people demonstrating in front of the Italian Consulate against a cartoon depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Independent confirmation was not possible because the government tightly controls the media, but video clips posted on the Internet showed protesters carrying signs and chanting: “No God but Allah. Moammar is the enemy of Allah,” and “Down, down to corruption and to the corrupt.”
Libya’s official news agency did not carry any reports of the anti-government protests. It reported only that supporters of Gadhafi demonstrated Wednesday in the capital, Tripoli, as well as Benghazi and other cities.
A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people joined a long and winding Shi’ite funeral procession for the man, shot dead on Tuesday when fighting erupted at the burial of another protester.
Around 2,000 others were camped out at a junction in the centre of the Gulf island kingdom’s capital, hoping to emulate the rallies on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. They demanded a change of government in Bahrain, where a Sunni family rules over a Shi’ite majority.
The protests, in their third day, are some of the most serious since widespread Shi’ite unrest of the 1990s, and appear to be driven by familiar complaints of economic hardship, lack of political freedom and sectarian discrimination.
“The people demand the fall of the regime!” protesters chanted as men pounded their chests in rhythm, a mourning gesture which is distinctive to the Shi’ite branch of Islam.
One demonstrator used a bullhorn to urge protesters to remain until their demands are met, as the Arab wave for change takes hold in the Gulf.
Near the protest site at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, police kept their distance, massing on a nearby dirt lot in dozens of cars.
Hundreds of former soldiers who once fought against each other have gathered in front of country’s Parliament to demand pensions promised to them by the authorities.
They were among the group of some 1,500 soldiers demobilized by government last year, and promised pensions in return for an early retirement.
Many of those protesting on Wednesday fought against each during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, when Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs of this country had their own armed forces.
The government said it will look for ways to meet their demands.
A 21-year old protester was shot dead after clashes broke out between police and demonstrators in south Yemen on Wednesday, his father said, as unrest spread across the Arabian Peninsula state.
It is the first known fatality of the demonstrations.
Mohammed Ali Alwani was among two people hit as police fired shots into the air to try to break up around 500 protesters gathered in the southern port town of Aden.
Yemen sent 2,000 policemen into the streets of the capital on Wednesday to try to put down days of protests against the president of 32 years, a key U.S. ally in battling Al Qaeda.
The policemen, including plainclothes officers, fired in the air and blocked thousands of students at Sanaa University from joining thousands of other protesters elsewhere in the capital who were holding a sixth straight day of demonstrations.
Taking inspiration from the toppling of autocratic leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemen’s protesters are demanding political reforms and the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Their central complaints are poverty, unemployment and corruption.
Witnesses said police chained the university’s iron gates in order to prevent students from pouring into adjacent streets.
They said at least four protesters were wounded in scuffles with police.
Hundreds of airport employees protested inside the arrivals terminal at Cairo International Airport to press demands for better wages and health coverage. The protest did not disrupt flights.
In the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahallah al-Koubra, workers from Egypt’s largest textile factory went on strike over pay and calls for an investigation into alleged corruption at the factory, according to labour rights activist Mustafa Bassiouni.
The new warning Wednesday raised expectations of an outright ban on protests and strikes that could raise the tension level in a country already growing more nervous by the day over uncertainties about the future.
In Port Said, a coastal city at the northern tip of the Suez canal, about 1,000 people demonstrated to demand that a chemical factory be closed because it was dumping waste in a lake near the city.
Three people were killed and dozens wounded in the southern Iraqi city of Kut on Wednesday in clashes between security forces and protesters demanding better basic services, police and hospital sources said.
Protesters calling for the removal of corrupt officials and an improvement in basic services threw bricks and stones at Iraqi security forces and took over the city’s provincial and government buildings, the sources said.
“The toll from the violent actions of the demonstrations is three protesters killed and about 30 wounded, including 15 policemen from the facilities protection service,” a police source in Kut said.
A spokeswoman for a southern Iraqi province says around 2,000 people attacked government offices and tried to set fire to the governor’s house to protest often shoddy public services.
Following the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Iraqis have staged small-scale protests demanding better services, such as electricity.
A South African resident says his son was killed during three days of protests in an area where residents say they lack basic services such as running water.
The man said Wednesday he was mourning his adult son who was killed Tuesday. He says the community would be better if people had job opportunities. Police say they are investigating the death.
Police fired rubber bullets Wednesday to disperse protesters in a third day of demonstrations in the eastern town of Ermelo. Police did not say if there were new injuries reported Wednesday.
Protests over poor government services are common in South Africa, where the gap between rich and poor is among the widest in the world.