Hundreds of Libyan protesters took to the streets Wednesday in the country's second largest city to demand the government's ouster in the first sign that the region's unrest has spread to the Arab nation in North Africa.
Witnesses say protesters in the port city of Benghazi chanted slogans demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. The crowds, however, did not appear to direct their anger at Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled the nation for more than 40 years.
A crowd of people angry at the arrest of a rights campaigner clashed with police and government supporters overnight in the eastern Libyan city, a witness and local media said.
Libyan state television said separately that rallies were being held across the oil exporting country on Wednesday in support of Gaddafi.
The online edition of Libya's privately-owned Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi, said the crowd were armed with petrol bombs and threw stones.
It said they protested outside a local government office to demand the release of the human rights activist, and then went to the city's Shajara square where they clashed with police and government supporters.
It said the rioting was now over and that government supporters had taken over the square. Fourteen people were injured including 10 police officers, but none of the injuries were serious, the newspaper said.
A Benghazi resident contacted by Reuters said the people involved in the clashes were relatives of inmates in Tripoli's Abu Salim jail, where militant Islamists and government opponents have traditionally been held.
"Last night was a bad night," said the witness, who did not want to be identified.
"There were about 500 or 600 people involved. They went to the revolutionary committee (local government headquarters) in Sabri district, and they tried to go to the central revolutionary committee ... They threw stones," he said.
Libyan state television showed footage of a rally in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, of government supporters.
Participants chanted slogans accusing Qatar-based television news channel Al-Jazeera – which was instrumental in revolts in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt – of broadcasting lies.
'Gaddafi should relinquish powers'
As in the uprisings that toppled longtime autocratic rulers in Egypt and Tunisia – on opposite sides of Libya – Libyan activists are using social networking websites like Facebook to call for a day of protests on Thursday.
On Monday, several opposition groups in exile called for the overthrow of Gaddafi and for a peaceful transition of power in Libya.
"Colonel Gaddafi and all his family members should relinquish powers," the groups said in a statement.
Gaddafi came to power 1969 through a military coup and since then he has been ruling the country with no parliament or constitution. Although Gaddafi claims he is only a revolutionary leader with no official status, he holds absolute power.
The opposition groups say that in practice he has direct control of the country's politics and its military and security forces.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
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