Rioting hits Libyan city of Benghazi

Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:32pm GMT

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Hundreds of people clashed with police and government supporters overnight in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, a witness and local media said, in a rare show of unrest in the oil exporting country.

Protesters angered by the arrest of a human rights activist threw petrol bombs, set cars ablaze and chanted "no God but God!" in clashes that left dozens injured, according to reports from the city.

Libya has been tightly controlled by leader Muammar Gaddafi for over 40 years but has also felt the ripples from popular revolts in its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia.

Libyan state television said that rallies were held in the early hours of Wednesday morning across the country in support of Gaddafi, who is Africa's longest serving leader.

Reports from Benghazi, about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the Libyan capital, indicated the city was now calm but that overnight, protesters armed with stones and petrol bombs had set fire to vehicles and fought with police.

The protesters were angry about the arrest of a human rights campaigner and demanded his release.

Gaddafi opponents used the Facebook social networking site to call on people to go out onto the streets across Libya on Thursday for what they described as a "day of rage".

Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi, quoted Abdelkrim Gubaili, the director of a local hospital, as saying 38 people were hurt in the clashes, most of them members of the security forces. He said they had all been discharged.

"Last night was a bad night," a Benghazi resident, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters by telephone.   Continued...

<p>Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a meeting with Benin President Yayi Boni in Cotonou, June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Tossou</p>
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