Washington: The United States said on Sunday it was deeply concerned by credible reports of hundreds of deaths and injuries during protests in Libya, and urged the government to allow demonstrators to protest peacefully.
Protesters, inspired by uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, are demanding an end to the 41-year rule of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. His security forces have responded with a violent crackdown.
"The United States is gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said. "We have raised to a number of Libyan officials ... our strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators."
The State Department said US embassy dependents were being encouraged to leave Libya and US citizens were urged to defer non-essential travel to the country.
Top US diplomats spoke out on Sunday against brutal crackdowns on protesters in Libya and Bahrain but stopped short of calling for a change of government in any of the countries facing large protests.
At least 50 people were killed and 100 others seriously wounded in Benghazi on Sunday, a doctor in Libya's second-biggest city, said.
Human Rights Watch said 84 people were killed in the city on Saturday, bringing the death toll in four days of clashes mainly in the east of the country to 173 before Sunday's violence.
Members of a Libyan Army unit told Benghazi residents on Sunday they had defected and "liberated" the city from troops supporting Gaddafi, two residents said.
Libya is a major energy producer with significant investment from Britain's BP, Exxon Mobil of the United States and Italy's ENI among others.
First Published: Monday, February 21, 2011, 13:00