Gaddafi supporters counter Libya’s “day of rage”

A supporter of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi posses for the camera while holding a flag during a pro-government demonstration in Tripoli early on Thursday, February 17. (AP Photo)
TRIPOLI, February 17 (Reuters): Several hundred supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gathered in the capital on Thursday to counteract online calls for an anti-government "day of rage" inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Libyan authorities had detained 14 activists, writers and protesters who had been preparing the anti-government protests, and there were unconfirmed reports of two people killed in an eastern city.
In a country where public dissent is rarely tolerated, plans for the protests were being circulated by anonymous activists on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter but telephone lines to some parts of the country were out of order. Libya has been tightly controlled for over 40 years by Muammar Gaddafi -- who is now Africa's longest-serving leader -- but the oil exporter has felt the ripples from the overthrow of long-standing leaders in its neighbors Egypt and Tunisia.
A Reuters reporter said the pro-government supporters had assembled in Tripoli's Green Square, next to the ancient medina, or old city. They chanted "We are defending Gaddafi and the revolution!" and "The revolution continues!"
In Libya, the military coup in 1969 which brought Gaddafi to power is referred to as the revolution. There was no sign of any anti-government protests. On Omar al-Mokhtar street, Tripoli's main thoroughfare, traffic was moving as normal, banks and shops were open and there was no increased security presence.
Witnesses and local media reported that several hundred people clashed with police and Gaddafi supporters on Tuesday night in the city of Benghazi, about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the Libyan capital. Late on Wednesday evening, it was impossible to contact witnesses in Benghazi because telephone connections to the city appeared to be out of order.
Al Jazeera television, and posts on Facebook, said two people had been killed in protests on Wednesday in Al Bayda, east of Benghazi. But they did not give the source of the information and it was not possible to verify the reports.


Gaddafi was quoted as saying on Wednesday that "revolutionaries" would prevail, although he did not mention the unrest.
"Down with the enemies, down with them everywhere; down with the puppets everywhere, the puppets are falling, the autumn leaves are falling." the BBC quoted Gaddafi as saying. "The puppets of the USA, the puppets of Zionism are falling."
The BBC also quoted an unnamed senior Libyan official as warning that the authorities "will not allow a group of people to move around at night and play with the security of Libya." Though some Libyans complain about unemployment, inequality and limits on political freedoms, analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use oil revenues to smooth over most social problems.
"We have problems," Mustafa Fetouri, a Tripoli-based political analyst and university professor, told Reuters. "This is a society that is still behind in many ways, there are certain legitimate problems that have to be sorted out. "Among the main ones is corruption ... People see the country is sitting on piles of money yet there is no trust in how the money will be spent."
But he said: "I do not really see it (unrest) spreading... Gaddafi remains well respected and if there is any kind of measure of his popularity I am sure he would come out with a majority." Human Rights Watch said Libya should free everyone detained for their role in anti-government protests.
"With people from Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain and Iran asserting their right to protest, the Libyan government is responding in exactly the wrong way," it said in a statement. People posting messages on opposition site, which is based outside Libya, urged Libyans to protest and drew parallels with the uprising this month that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
A Facebook page dedicated to the planned protest urged followers to "make it a day of rage in Libya." Thursday is the anniversary of clashes on February 17, 2006 in Benghazi when security forces killed several protesters who were attacking the city's Italian consulate. Libya accounts for about 2 percent of the world's crude exports. Companies including Shell, BP and Eni have invested billions of dollars in tapping its oil fields, home to the largest proven reserves in Africa.