Seven people were reported killed as gunshots rang out in Libya's second city Benghazi during a "Day of Anger" against strongman Moamer Kadhafi inspired by fiery protests across the region.
"Seven protesters were killed in the demonstrations Thursday at Benghazi," a local medical official who requested anonymity said, without giving further details.
The regime of Kadhafi, who has been in power since 1969, vied to counter the swelling opposition movement with its own pro-government rallies in the capital Tripoli and other cities.
|A pro-government supporter holds a portrait of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi during a gathering in Tripoli on February 16, 2011|
But the unrest has deepened as the opposition mobilises via Facebook and mobile phone messages, emulating protest movements across North Africa and the Middle East that have already brought down the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
Geneva-based Human Rights Solidarity, citing witnesses, meanwhile said rooftop snipers in the city of Al-Baida east of Benghazi had killed 13 protesters and wounded dozens of others on Wednesday.
Libya Watch said at least four were killed when "security forces and militias of the Revolutionary Committees used live ammunition to disperse a peaceful demonstration by the youth of Al-Baida".
The Revolutionary Committees, the backbone of Kadhafi's regime, have warned they will not allow anti-regime protesters to "plunder the achievements of the people and threaten the safety of citizens and the country's stability".
Videos circulating on the Internet showed a building on fire and dozens of young Libyans apparently gathered on Wednesday night in Al-Baida, chanting: "The people want to bring down the regime."
The Quryna newspaper, close to Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, cited official sources as putting the death toll in Al-Baida at two. It traced the unrest to a police shutdown of local shops that soon escalated.
The interior ministry fired the head of security in Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar province in the aftermath of the violence, in which protesters had torched "several police cars and citizens", the paper said on its website.
Ramadan Briki, chief editor of the Quryna newspaper in Benghazi, said gunfire rang out in several parts of the city on the third straight day of protests against Kadhafi.
"It is the first time that we have heard shooting in the city," Briki told AFP. "Given the difficulties, we are unable to know if there are fatalities or not."
Lawyers demonstrated in front of a courthouse in Benghazi to demand a constitution for the country.
And in Zentan, southwest of Tripoli, Quryna said demonstrators had set fire to the police station, the city's court, the posts of the internal security forces and the people's guard, and offices of the Revolutionary Committees.
In Tripoli, hundreds attended a peaceful pro-regime rally in Green Square, near the capital's waterfront.
They brandished banners proclaiming "Kadhafi, the father of the people" and "The crowd supports the revolution and its leader," and held up photographs of the strongman.
The veteran leader briefly visited the square to a rapturous welcome early Friday, images aired by state television showed.
The network showed similar pro-government rallies in Benghazi, Sirte and and other cities.
Britain, France and the European Union called for restraint by the authorities in Libya, whose relations with the West have improved sharply over the past decade after years of virtual pariah status.
Rights group Amnesty International denounced the use of excessive force against the opposition.
"The police in Libya, as elsewhere, have a responsibility to ensure public safety but this does not extend to using lethal or excessive force against peaceful protesters," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.