Sunday, February 20, 2011

US condemns crackdowns on Mideast protests

The Associated Press
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 3:57 PM

WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. diplomat on Sunday condemned the brutal crackdown on opposition protesters in Libya, saying Arab leaders facing pro-democracy protests need to lead the way rather than resist reform.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration was "very concerned" about reported armed attacks by Libyan security forces on peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"We've condemned that violence," Rice told "Meet the Press" on NBC. "Our view is that in Libya as throughout the region peaceful protests need to be respected."
Libyan forces fired machine-guns at mourners marching in a funeral for anti-government protesters in Benghazi Sunday, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries pummeled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry. A physician in Benghazi told The Associated Press that at least 200 had been killed in demonstrations against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
Al Jazeera television reported that Benghazi demonstrators had seized army vehicles and weapons, that the police academy had been set ablaze and that some soldiers had joined the demonstrators.
Libya's response to opposition demonstrations may be the most brutal since uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt began spreading across the region.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. has received a number of credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in the unrest, although the extent of the violence is unknown because Libya has denied access to international media and human rights groups. Crowley said the U.S. has raised "strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters."

The European Union also denounced the Libyan government's response to the protests, with the EU's foreign policy chief calling for an end to the violence.
Rice said meanwhile that President Barack Obama and other top administration officials apparently persuaded the government of the island kingdom of Bahrain to halt its violent crackdown on protesters. Five demonstrators were killed and some 230 wounded last week when riot police stormed the demonstrators' makeshift camp in the capital's Pearl Square, wielding clubs and firing tear gas.
"We've been very clear with our partners in Bahrain that they ought to exercise restraint, that there's no place for violence against peaceful protesters there or anywhere else," Rice said. Bahrain had apparently responded, she said, citing reports that military forces had been withdrawn from Pearl Square and jubilant protesters had returned.
Rice said Bahrainian officials had begun a "real effort" at dialogue with the opposition.
Asked if King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalif's pro-U.S. government could survive the challenge to its rule, Rice said: "I wouldn't want to be in the business of predictions in this very volatile environment." She added that Mideast leaders need to respect calls for reform and "need to get ahead of it by leading rather than being pushed."

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