Libyan hospital official: 200 dead in Benghazi

A man walks past a banner showing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, in Tripoli's Green Square, in this 2009 file photo. AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Last UPdated 7:28 a.m. ET

CAIRO - Libyan protesters defied a fierce crackdown by Moammar Gadhafi's regime, returning Sunday to a square outside a court building in the flashpoint city of Benghazi to demand the overthrow of the African nation's longtime ruler.

A doctor in Benghazi said his hospital has seen the bodies of at least 200 protesters killed by Gadhafi's forces over the last few days. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, as did several other witnesses in Libya.

Witnesses told The Associated Press a mixture of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists went after demonstrators on Saturday with knives, assault rifles and heavy-caliber weapons.

The Benghazi doctor said his hospital, one of two in Libya's second-largest city, is out of supplies and cannot treat more than 70 wounded who were hit in the attacks and need attention.

"I am crying," the doctor said. "Why is the world not listening?"

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Protesters remain defiant despite facing repeated assaults, and some opposition leaders in exile claim that several towns in the nation's eastern provinces are now under control of forces which are no longer loyal to Gadhafi.

Jamal Eddin Mohammed, a 53-year old resident of Benghazi, said thousands are marching toward the city's cemetery to bury at least a dozen protesters. The march, he said, would pass by Gadhafi's residential palace and the regime's local security headquarters.

Mohammed said protesters feared more clashes with the government.

"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," he said.

The mourners were chanting: "The people demand the ouster of the regime," which became a mantra for protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.

Mohammed Abdullah, an exiled leader of the Libyan Salvation Front, said government troops in parts of Benghazi, Beyida and Tobruk have severed ties with their command in Tripoli. Protests also have spread to outside the southern city of Zentan and west to Mesrata, the third-biggest city in Libya.

Getting concrete details about Libya's increasingly chaotic situation has been difficult because journalists cannot work freely inside the country. Information about the uprising has come through telephone interviews, along with videos and messages posted online, and through opposition activists in exile.

That followed days of protests in Benghazi, a focal point of the uprising aimed at toppling Gadhafi after more than 40 years of rule.

Witnesses told The Associated Press hundreds of demonstrators gathered early Sunday morning at the court building after a day of bloodshed, during which Libyan forces opened fire on mourners leaving a funeral for protesters.

In the hours after that attack, a medical official said at least 15 people were killed.

But Mohammed Abdullah said Sunday that the toll could be much higher. He quoted hospital officials in Benghazi saying the death toll might have reached 300.

The U.S.-based Arbor Networks reported another Internet service outage in Libya just before midnight Saturday night. The company says online traffic ceased in Libya about 2 a.m. Saturday, was restored at reduced levels several hours later, only to be cut off again that night.

According to several accounts, police in Benghazi initially followed orders Saturday to act against the protesters, but later joined with them because they belong to the same tribe and saw foreign mercenaries taking part in the killings.

"People are defiant here and they are ready to die," said a woman on the phone from Benghazi. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, as did other witnesses.

Before Saturday's violence, Human Rights Watch estimated at least 84 people had been killed in anti-Gadhafi unrest.

Abdullah said smaller protests were staged Saturday night on the outskirts of the capital Tripoli, a stronghold of support for Gadhafi, but demonstrators were quickly dispersed by security men. Besides Tripoli and Benghazi, the nation's second-largest city, the U.S. State Department in a travel warning to American citizens listed five other cities that have seen demonstrations.

The protests, inspired by the successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, have been driven by frustration and anger over Gadhafi's authoritarian rule, corruption, economic hardships.

Supporters of the Libyan uprising also demonstrated in Switzerland and in Washington on Saturday, waving flags and burning Gadhafi's photo.

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