New Wave of Protests Hit Arab Nations

BY Francine Uenuma  February 16, 2011 at 7:43 AM EDT

A fresh spate of protests taking place in Arab countries is raising questions about whether other North African and Middle Eastern governments may see upheaval mirroring what was seen in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Libya, hundreds of anti-government protesters have clashed with police and pro-government marchers in the coastal city of Benghazi. The protests came following the arrest of a lawyer critical of the government. According to reports, marchers hurled stones at police, who responded with water canons, rubber bullets and tear gas.

The lawyer, Fathi Terbil, represented relatives of those allegedly killed by security forces at a prison in Tripoli, the capital.

There has been talk on the Internet that further demonstrations are being planned for Thursday. While Libyan state television showed footage of pro-government marchers, independent media outlets were not known to be present.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been in power since 1969.

Protesters in the small island nation of Bahrain are calling for political reforms, congregating near Manama’s Pearl Monument. Security forces have eased their crackdown after two people were killed and dozens injured.

“The U.S. welcomes the government of Bahrain’s statements that it will investigate these deaths,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet and is an established U.S. ally in the region.

The country is led by a Sunni monarchy but has a large Shiite population. Some protesters were calling for a civil government, despite a ruling monarchy that is more than two centuries old.

Meanwhile in Yemen, thousands of police have been deployed in the capital, Sanaa, to clear protesters who have spent almost a week calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years, is a U.S. ally and met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month. Yemen is seen as a key hub for al Qaeda plotters. The United States also has a $75 million planned training program with counterterrorism forces.

Anti-government protesters gather near Sanaa University on Feb. 16, 2011. (Mohammad Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Yemeni police fired shots into the air as they encountered thousands of students from Sanaa University. Four protesters were reportedly wounded.

In addition to al Qaeda, Yemen’s government faces the challenge of two secessionist movements and widespread poverty. In an attempt to placate protesters, Saleh announced he would not seek reelection in 2013.

In Iran, Tehran saw the largest protests since the summer of 2009, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the attempt to hold massive anti-government demonstrations would fail. His comments followed calls by hardline lawmakers to execute two leading opposition figures. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former presidential candidate, and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, were harassed by police as the latest demonstrations broke out in Tehran.

New clashes came on Wednesday at the funeral of one of the protesters killed on Monday. Saane Zhaleh, a university student, was shot and beaten, although it is unclear whether security elements were responsible.

Iran’s government has cracked down on foreign journalists trying to cover the protests, revoking credentials of about a dozen reporters.

In an interview on state television, Ahmadinejad said: “The Iranian nation is like the sun in that it is so brilliant. And of course this brilliance has enemies.”

In a news conference Tuesday, President Obama responded, “I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran.”