Popular protests engulfed large swathes of the Arab world after Friday prayers, as anti-government movements appear to gain momentum. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators turned out across the Arab world after Friday prayers to express anger at their leaders.
In Benghazi, Libya, the center of an insurgent movement against veteran leader Moammar Gadhafi, protesters shouted that they want to overthrow his regime.
Benghazi and most of eastern Libya is now under control of the insurgents, in addition to growing sections of territory in western Libya, outside the capital Tripoli. Al-Arabiya TV reports that the coastal towns of Zawiya and Misrata, scenes of a ferocious battles between pro and anti-Gadhafi supporters Thursday, are now in the hands of the opposition.
In Tripoli, which remains under government control for the most part, the Friday prayer leader told worshipers that they should not challenge their rulers or create strife. Eyewitnesses reported that Gadhafi supporters fired on protesters in several parts of Tripoli, causing casualties.
Former Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgham, an Gadhafi confidante, told Al-Arabiya TV that “talk of an outside military intervention in Libya makes it imperative to find a solution in the best interest of the nation.” It is time,” he said, “for courageous decisions to be made.” Mr. Gadhafi told Libyan TV Thursday that he has no “real power,” but “just moral authority,” like the Queen of England.
Despite the chaos and violence, a ferry boat succeeded in evacuating U.S. nationals from Tripoli to the nearby island of Malta. The deteriorating security situation has prompted thousands of Libyans and foreign nationals to flee the country in recent days. Bad weather and high seas have hampered several seaborne attempts to evacuate foreigners.
Several hundred thousand demonstrators also turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday, calling for the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. A similar demonstration took place last Friday, after worshipers held prayer services in the square.
Major protests also took place in numerous Iraqi towns and cities, including Baghdad, the southern port city of Basra and the Sunni Muslim towns of Samara, Tikrit, Baquba and Ramadi. In the northern town of Mosul and its outskirts dozens of casualties were reported after protesters clashed with security forces.
The most dramatic clashes took place in Baghdad where thousands of protesters gathered at the city’s Tahrir Square for what was being called a “day of rage.” Al-Jazeera TV reported that hundreds of protesters broke through police lines on two Baghdad bridges to join the rally.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators also turned out in almost every province of Yemen Friday to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The daily protests began on February 16 and have grown in strength, despite pledges of political reform by Mr. Saleh. President Saleh has governed Yemen since 1978 and has promised not to seek re-election when his term ends in 2013.