Libyans protesting against Muammar Gaddafi's rule appeared to control the streets of Benghazi on Sunday despite the security forces killing dozens in the bloodiest of multiple revolts now rocking the Arab world.
Witnesses said the city was in chaos, with government buildings ransacked and troops and police forced to retreat to a fortified compound, from where they picked off demonstrators with sniper and heavy-weapons fire.
Reporters have not been allowed into the city but piecemeal witness accounts suggest it is in a cycle of violence, where people are killed and then, after funeral processions to bury the dead the next day, security forces shoot more protesters.
"A massacre took place here last night," one Benghazi resident, who did not want to be named, told Reuters by telephone on Sunday.
He said security forces had used heavy weapons, adding: "Many soldiers and policemen have joined the protesters."
Another resident, who also declined to be named, told Reuters: "Some 100,000 protesters are now heading for a cemetery to bury dozens of martyrs."
A Benghazi hospital doctor said victims had suffered severe wounds from high-velocity rifles.
"The security forces are in their barracks and the city is in a state of civil mutiny," one witness told Reuters.
The witness who spoke of the funeral procession gathering said: "We fear a new massacre because the road leading to the cemetery is not far from a security barracks.
"We will not give up until the regime falls. We call on the United Nations to intervene immediately to stop the massacre."
Another witness in Benghazi told Reuters thousands of people had performed ritual prayers in front of 60 bodies laid out near Benghazi's northern court.
He said hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, had come out onto the Mediterranean seafront and the area surrounding the port. "The protesters are here until the regime falls," he said.
Unrest also hit Yemen, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria and Djibouti over the weekend as people took to the streets demanding political and economic change.
"At least 170 people dead"
In Libya, Gaddafi responded to the biggest challenge of his four decades in power with ruthless force. New York-based Human Rights Watch said security forces had shot dead at least 170 people, mostly in eastern coastal city of Benghazi. At least 20 were killed overnight after the security forces fired heavy weapons at civilians from a fortified compound.
The situation there was confused as the Libyan government has restricted media access and communications have been patchy.
From conflicting accounts given over poor phone lines, it appeared the streets were under the control of protesters while security forces had pulled back to the compound, known as the Command Centre, from where they shot at people.
One witness said many police and soldiers had joined the protesters.
"Right now, the only military presence in Benghazi is confined to the Command Centre Complex in the city. The rest of the city is liberated," said another witness.
Local government offices and police stations had been torched, the witnesses said. As on previous days, thousands of people gathered near the northern Benghazi courthouse on Sunday chanting: "We want to bring down the regime...Allahu Akbar!"
Benghazi and the surrounding area have been the focus of the Libyan unrest. But posts on social network sites, which could not be verified, referred to minor clashes in the capital Tripoli and of overnight gunfire in Nalut to the west.
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