Bahrain, Libya Join the Middle East Fray

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Hundreds of Libyans clashed with government forces in the port city of Benghazi on Wednesday, demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Baghdad al-Mahmoudi, but stopping short of calling for longtime President Moammar Ghadafi to step down.

Like their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya's anti-government protesters are using Facebook and other social networking sites to promote a nationwide rally on Thursday.

About 600 protesters, angered at the arrest of a rights activist, threw rocks and petrol bombs at government forces in the city's Shajara Square following earlier demonstrations outside government offices, the local Quryna newspaper reported.

One eyewitness, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters the protesters were relatives of anti-government Islamists being held in Tripoli's Abu Salim jail.
 
"Last night was a bad night. There were about 500 or 600 people involved. They went to the revolutionary committee in Sabri district and they tried to go to the central revolutionary committee," the eyewitness said, referring to local government offices.

According to Human Rights Association activist Mohamed Terish, the government agreed to free the remaining 110 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group imprisoned at the Abu Salim jail, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, anti-government protests in Bahrain entered the third day of demonstrations calling for sweeping political reforms. Protesters are occupying the capital's landmark square, like their counterparts in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

At least two protesters have been killed and dozens more injured in the small island nation, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Bahrain is critical to U.S. military operations in the Gulf, with the 5th Fleet playing a key role in curbing Iran's growing appetite for control in the region.

Thousands camped out in Manama's Pear Square are calling for protests to continue until the government meets their demands.

The protesters want the country's Sunni monarchy to incorporate more members of the Shiite majority in key government positions. Protesters are also demanding more jobs and better housing and the freeing of all political prisoners.

Demonstrators are increasingly calling for the ousting of the dynasty that has ruled the country for more than 200 years.

In a nationwide television address on Tuesday, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa promised to investigate the deaths of the two protesters and called for reforms on state control over the media and Internet.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday the Obama administration is "very concerned" about the violence against protesters and urged that the government follow through on its statements "as quickly as possible."

"The United States welcomes the government of Bahrain's statements that it will investigate these deaths and that it will take legal action against any unjustified use of force by Bahraini security forces," Crowley said.

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