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February 19, 2011

Anti-Government Protests Spread in North Africa

by Lisa Bryant

Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Morocco and Tunisia Sunday, while there are reports of 173 people killed during clashes with security forces in eastern Libya.

Morocco was the latest Arab country with anti-government protests. Journalists report at least 2,000 people marched in the capital, Rabat, and other cities, calling for a new constitution, more economic opportunities, a crackdown on corruption, and for King Mohammed to cede some of his powers.

The protest sounds in Rabat, captured in a YouTube video, could not be independently verified. But news services report that unlike Saturday's anti-government protests in neighboring Algeria, Moroccan police kept a low profile.

By contrast, Libyan forces have reportedly cracked down brutally against anti-government protesters in Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya. Human Rights Watch estimates more than 170 people have been killed. Others like Benghazi doctor Soheil Al Atrach, who was interviewed by Radio France Internationale, say about 200 people were killed in the area.

Dr. Al Atrach says about 100 bodies have been brought into the Benghazi hospital where he works. He estimates the crackdown by Libyan authorities have left another 100 dead in surrounding towns and about 600 to 700 people injured. He describes the scene at his hospital as a 'real butchery.'

But journalists have had a hard time independently verifying the events and casualty toll in Libya, because of controls on information.

The protests are part of larger calls for democracy and regime change that have resonated across the Arab world, starting with mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled the leaders of both countries.

Thousands of demonstrators also poured into the streets of Tunisia's capital, demanding the resignation of the interim government, which has been criticized for being slow to address economic and security concerns - and for its ties to the former regime of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The caretaker government has promised elections within six months, but has yet to set a date.   

In Yemen, anti-government protests continued for the 11th straight day, with university students demonstrating in the capital, Sanaa.

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