US warns against travel to Libya

2011-02-20 13:04

Washington -The United States warned its citizens against travel to eastern Libya on Saturday amid a deadly crackdown against protesters urging their longtime ruler to step down.

Libyan authorities earlier arrested dozens of foreign Arab nationals for allegedly stoking anti-regime protests after Human Rights Watch said security forces had killed more than 80 protesters in what Britain termed a "horrifying" crackdown.

"The US Department of State alerts US citizens to the potential for ongoing unrest in eastern Libya. US citizens are urged to defer non-essential travel to eastern Libya at this time," the agency said in a statement.

"The US Department of State strongly urges US citizens to avoid all demonstrations, as even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly and a foreigner could become a target of harassment, or worse."

It pointed to reports of "violent clashes between protesters and security forces" across several cities in eastern Libya, including in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Al-Baida, Al-Marj, Derna and Tobruk.

"Spontaneous demonstrations and violence are possible throughout the next several days... There is no indication that Westerners are being threatened or targeted," the State Department added in its travel alert expiring on March 19.

On the fifth day of an unprecedented challenge to his four-decade regime, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had still made no public comment.

After regime opponents used Facebook to mobilise protests, as in neighbouring Egypt, the social networking website was blocked and internet connections were patchy, said internet users in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Tripoli itself remained calm and state television and the official news agency restricted its coverage to reports of pro-regime rallies.