More Libya fighting amid fears of ''catastrophe''

Libya map
Cairo, Feb 20: Anti-regime protests spread closer to the Libyan capital today and new fighting erupted in the flashpoint city of Benghazi, as Human Rights Watch said it feared a catastrophe with more than 170 people dead in an iron-fisted crackdown.

France called the government response "unacceptable" and "totally disproportionate," and people in London and Cairo protested against Moamer Kadhafi who has ruled the oil-rich North African country for four decades.

In the face of outside criticism, Libya warned Europe it would stop cooperating in the fight against illegal immigration if the European Union does not stop encouraging pro-democracy protests.

Witnesses told AFP by telephone that Libyan security forces clashed with anti-regime protesters in the Mediterranean city of Misrata, 200 kilometres from Tripoli.

Demonstrators took to the streets there to support residents of second city Benghazi, 1,000 kilometres east of Tripoli, who have endured the brunt of a c in eastern Libya, they said.

The witnesses said security forces, backed by "African mercenaries," had shot into the crowds "without discrimination."

In Benghazi, protests continued against Kadhafi''s rule amid new fighting, lawyer Mohammed al-Mughrabi told AFP by telephone.

"Lawyers are demonstrating outside the Northern Benghazi court; there are thousands here. We have called it Tahrir Square Two," he said of the Cairo square central to protests that brought down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Separately, others are "storming the garrison" and "taking fire from snipers," Mughrabi said, without elaborating.

A doctor at Benghazi's Al-Jalaa hospital told AFP late this afternoon that 15 bodies had been brought in since 2:00 pm, bringing to 85 the number of fatalities there since yesterday morning.

Mughrabi said "at least 200 have been killed altogether (since the outbreak of unrest this week) but we can''t verify from hospital. We are pleading for the Red Cross to send field hospitals. We can''t take it any more."

Speaking earlier to Al-Jazeera television, one resident warned that Benghazi was turning into a scene of "out-of-sight massacres."

"It feels like an open war zone between protesters and security forces," said Fathi Terbeel, a protest organiser.

"Our numbers show that more than 200 people have been killed. God have mercy on them."

In London, Human Rights Watch said at least 173 people had died since Tuesday.


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