Libyan security forces have opened fire again on anti-government protesters, while a U.S.-based rights group has raised Libya’s death toll to 173 from five days of unrest.
Witnesses Sunday in Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, said the security forces shot at mourners attending a funeral for protesters killed a day before.
Human Rights Watch issued its higher death toll report Sunday, as sources at hospitals in Benghazi said the violence there has killed at least 200 people and wounded hundreds of others.
Libyan security forces also fired Saturday on crowds gathering for the funerals of activists.
Arab media reports said at least 15 protesters were killed in Saturday’s shootings, which some Benghazi residents described as a “massacre.” Witnesses said snipers opened fire after the mourners tried to storm a military building.
The demonstrations have been largely confined to Benghazi and other cities in eastern Libya since they began last Tuesday. They represent an unprecedented challenge to the four-decade rule of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose supporters have staged small rallies in the capital, Tripoli, in recent days.
There was no independent confirmation of Libyan witnesses’ accounts of the violence, as the government has barred local and foreign journalists from covering the unrest.
The U.S. State Department has issued a warning to Americans to stay away from eastern Libya, saying more demonstrations and violent incidents are possible in the coming days. It also said even peaceful protests can quickly become unruly and foreigners “could become a target of harassment or worse.”
Libyan authorities also cut off Internet services in the country Saturday, denying cyber activists a key tool to mobilize demonstrators.
Gadhafi has tried to defuse the protests by doubling the salaries of state employees and releasing 110 suspected Islamic militants. He took power in a 1969 coup and has built his rule on a cult of personality and a network of family and tribal alliances.