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Deadly Assaults On Libyan Protesters Reported

After anti-government unrest spread to the Libyan capital and protesters seized military bases and weapons Sunday, Moammar Gadhafi's son went on state television to proclaim that his father remained in charge with the army's backing and would "fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, in the regime's first comments on the six days of demonstrations, warned the protesters that they risked igniting a civil war in which Libya's oil wealth "will be burned."

The speech followed a fierce crackdown by security forces who fired on thousands of demonstrators and funeral marchers in the eastern city of Benghazi in a bloody cycle of violence that killed 60 people on Sunday alone, according to a doctor in one city hospital. Since the six days of unrest began, more than 200 people have been killed, according to medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents.

Lybia's response has been the harshest of any Arab country that has been wracked by the protests that toppled long-serving leaders in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. But Gadhafi's son said his father would prevail.

"We are not Tunisia and Egypt," the younger Gadhafi said. "Moammar Gadhafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him."

"The armed forces are with him. Tens of thousands are heading here to be with him. We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet,'' he said in a rambling and sometimes confused speech of nearly 40 minutes.

The younger Gadhafi, who is the regime's face of reform, conceded that the army made some mistakes during the protests because the troops were not trained to deal with demonstrators, but he added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84.

Western countries have expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in Libya. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he spoke to Seif al-Islam Gadhafi by phone and told him that the country must embark on "dialogue and implement reforms," the Foreign Office said.

In the speech, the younger Gadhafi offered to put forward reforms within days that he described as a "historic national initiative" and said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and begin discussions for a constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the media and the penal code.

Protesters had seized some military bases, tanks and other weapons, he said, blaming Islamists, the media, thugs, drunks and drug abusers, foreigners including Egyptians and Tunisians. He also admitted that the unrest had spread to Tripoli, with people firing in central Green Square before fleeing.

NPR reached a doctor who said he's in Benghazi and claimed to have treated at least 20 people who died Sunday.

"I saw a lot of dead peole, a lot of injured people ... it really was a massacre here," he said.

The doctor said violence was continuing in parts of the city.

In a rare public admission of the unrest in Benghazi, Libyan state TV said an army base in the city had come under attack and had its walls breached.

Western countries expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in oil-rich Libya, which is sandwiched between friendly neighbors Egypt and Tunisia, where long-serving leaders were successfully toppled in recent weeks. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he told Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, that the country must embark on "dialogue and implement reforms," the Foreign Office said.

In the first-known defection from Gadhafi's regime, Abdel-Monem al-Houni, 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 just over a mile away.

"If we don't continue, this vile man would crush us with his tanks and bulldozers," she said. "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.

Later, however, a Benghazi resident said he received a telephone text message that an army battalion that appeared to be sympathetic to the demonstrators and led by a local officer was arriving to take over control of the compound, and urging civilians to get out of the way.

Abdul-Rahman, the local merchant, said he saw the battalion chase the pro-Gadhafi militia out of the compound.

Libya's rebellion by those frustrated with Gadhafi's more than 40 years of authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen eastern cities.

In Tripoli, a Gadhafi stronghold, there have been few reports of protests said to have been quickly put down. Secret police were heavily deployed on the streets of the city of 2 million.

On Sunday, however, armed security forces were seen on rooftops surrounding central Green Square, a witness said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The witness added that a group of about 200 lawyers and judges were protesting inside a Tripoli courthouse, which was also surrounded by security forces.

Libyan state TV showed Gadhafi in Tripoli being cheered by supporters, including tribesmen and women chanting "God, Moammar and Libya — that is all."

Khaled Abu Bakr, a resident of Sabratha, an ancient Roman city to the west, said protesters besieged the local security headquarters, driving out police and setting it on fire. Abu Bakr said residents are in charge, have set up neighborhood committees to secure their city.

In another key blow to Gadhafi, the Warfla tribe — the largest in Libya — has announced it is joining the protests, said Switzerland-based Libyan exile Fathi al-Warfali. Although it had longstanding animosity toward the Libyan leader, it had been neutral for most of the past two decades.

Gadhafi has been trying to bring his country out of isolation, announcing in 2003 that he was abandoning his program for weapons of mass destruction, renouncing terrorism and compensating victims of the 1986 La Belle disco bombing in Berlin and the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Those decisions opened the door for warmer relations with the West and the lifting of U.N. and U.S. sanctions. But Gadhafi continues to face allegations of human rights violations. Gadhafi has his own vast oil wealth and his response to protesters is less constrained by any alliances with the West than Egypt or Bahrain, both important U.S. allies.

A doctor at one Benghazi hospital where many of the casualties were taken said 20 people were killed Sunday. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said 173 people died — mostly in Benghazi — in three days of unrest from Thursday through Saturday. A Switzerland-based Libyan activist said 11 people were killed in the city of Beyida on Wednesday. The latest numbers brought the toll to at least 204 since Wednesday, though a precise count has been difficult because of a lack of information coming out of Libya.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration was "very concerned" about reports that Libyan security forces had fired on peaceful protesters in Benghazi.

"We've condemned that violence," she told NBC's "Meet the Press." "Our view is that in Libya as throughout the region peaceful protests need to be respected."

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

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