Libyan security forces killed at least 84 people over three days of protests, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday, citing telephone interviews with local hospital staff and witnesses.
"Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the eastern Libyan cities of Benghazi, Baida, Ajdabiya, Zawiya and Derna on February 18, 2011, following violent attacks against peaceful protests the day before that killed 20 people in Benghazi, 23 in Baida, three in Ajdabiya, and three in Derna," the New York-based watchdog said.
"Hospital sources told Human Rights Watch that security forces killed 35 people in Benghazi on February 18, almost all with live ammunition."
|Supporters of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi hold his picture during a pro-government rally in Tripoli|
The watchdog's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Joe Stork, called on the Libyan authorities to respect the right of free assembly.
"Moamer Kadhafi's security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability," he said.
The deadliest violence on Friday hit Benghazi where witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces wearing "distinctive yellow uniforms" shot at demonstrators who had gathered for the funeral of 20 people killed earlier.
By late Friday, Al-Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi had received the bodies of 35 killed that day, with the deaths caused by gunshot wounds to the chest, neck and head, according to a senior hospital official cited by the rights watchdog.
"We put out a call to all the doctors in Benghazi to come to the hospital and for everyone to contribute blood because I've never seen anything like this before," the official told Human Rights Watch.
Witnesses told the rights watchdog that after the February 18 shootings, protesters in Benghazi continued on to the courthouse and gathered there throughout the evening, the crowd swelling to thousands.
"Libyan authorities should allow peaceful protesters to have their say," Stork said.
Kadhafi has ruled Libya since 1969 and is the Arab world's longest-serving ruler.