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World News

February 21, 2011

Libya launches harshest crackdown yet on protesters

(Continued)

In the first-known defection from Gadhafi's regime, Libya's representative to the Arab League said he resigned his post to protest his government's decision to fire on defiant demonstrators in the second-largest city of Benghazi. Also, a major tribe in Libya was reported to have turned against Gadhafi.

"We are not afraid. We won't turn back," said a teacher who identified herself only as Omneya. She said she was marching at the end of the funeral procession on a highway beside the Mediterranean and heard gunfire from two kilometers (just over a mile) away. "If we don't continue, this vile man would crush us with his tanks and bulldozers. If we don't, we won't ever be free."

Omneya, who spoke by telephone, said one of those being buried was a toddler killed Saturday.

Eyewitness reports trickling out of the isolated country where the Internet has been largely shut down and journalists cannot work freely suggested that protesters were fighting back more forcefully against the Middle East's longest-serving leader.

Benghazi is "in a state of war," said Mohamed Abdul-Rahman, a 42-year old merchant, who described how some protesters burned a police headquarters.

Protesters throwing firebombs and stones, got on bulldozers and tried to storm a presidential compound from which troops had fired on the marchers, who included those carrying coffins of the dead from Saturday's unrest in the eastern city, a witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisal. The attempt was repulsed by armed forces in the compound, according to the witness and the official JANA news agency, which said a number of attackers and solders were killed.

"Everything is behind that (Gadhafi) compound, hidden behind wall after wall. The doors open and close and soldiers and tanks just come out, always as a surprise, and mostly after dark," resident Jamal Eddin Mohammed told The Associated Press by telephone.

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