Hundreds of supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gathered Thursday in the capital, Tripoli - a day opposition activists had called for nationwide "day of rage" protests inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
The Associated Press quotes opposition websites and an activist as saying anti-government protesters defied a crackdown and rallied in four cities. Meanwhile, U.S. -based Human Rights Watch says Libyan security forces arrested at least 14 activists before the planned protests.
Opposition leaders abroad, Libyan human rights groups and online activists used social media to call for the "day of rage" protests, following clashes on Wednesday between anti-government demonstrators and security forces.
Organizers said they wanted to commemorate February 17, the anniversary of two bloody episodes in Gadhafi's nearly 42-year reign. On that day in 1987, Libya publicly executed nine young men accused of treason. In 2006, Libyan police violently put down a protest outside the Italian consulate in Benghazi, killing more than 10.
The opposition website Libya Al-Youm said Thursday that four people were killed in clashes with security forces Wednesday in the city of al-Baida. Also, hundreds of protesters clashed with police Wednesday in the country's second-largest city, Benghazi. They were demanding the release of a human rights activist who represented the victims of a 1996 massacre at Libya's notorious Abu Salim prison. Many of the demonstrators were relatives of the victims.
Local media reports say protesters threw fire bombs and stones, and set cars on fire in clashes that left dozens injured. Police fired rubber bullets to contain the crowds.
The outbreak of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran has roiled the Middle East and brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gadhafi, who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.
The Libyan leader took power in 1969, leading a coup against a Western-backed monarchy.