HRW puts Libya crackdown death toll at 24

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Cairo, Feb 18 (AFP) Libyan security forces killedat least 24 people in a violent crackdown on anti-regimedemonstrations during a "Day of Anger" against strongmanMoamer Kadhafi, Human Rights Watch said today.

The New York-based rights group, citing witnesses,said 24 protesters were killed and scores injured duringyesterday''s assaults on protests in two Libyan cities.

"The authorities should cease the use of lethalforce unless absolutely necessary to protect lives and open anindependent investigation into the lethal shootings," HRW saidin a statement.

The worst violence hit the eastern city of Al-Baidawhere hospital staff put a call out yesterday for additionalmedical supplies to treat 70 injured protestors, half incritical condition, said the rights group.

One injured protester sitting near the hospital''sintensive care unit told Human Rights Watch that securityforces had used live ammunition to deter protesters, fatallyshooting 16 of them and wounding dozens others.

In Benghazi, hundreds of lawyers, activists, andother protesters gathered on the steps of the court callingfor a constitution and respect for the rule of law.

A protester told Human Rights Watch that groups ofmen in street clothes armed with knives, later joined byinternal security forces, charged into the crowd to dispersethe demonstration.

He said he believed security forces had shot deadat least 17, HRW said, adding that it was able to confirmeight of those deaths.

"The security forces'' vicious attacks on peacefuldemonstrators lay bare the reality of Muammar Gaddafi''sbrutality when faced with any internal dissent," said SarahLeah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

"Libyans should not have to risk their lives tomake a stand for their rights as human beings," she said.

(AFP)

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