Hundreds of thousands protest across Arab world



CAIRO – Hundreds of thousands poured out of mosques and staged protests across the Arab world Friday, some trying to shake off autocratic rulers and others pressuring embattled leaders to carry out sweeping reforms.

In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, protesters reported coming under a hail of bullets and said they saw at least seven people killed. In Iraq, troops opened fire in several cities to push back crowds marching on government offices, killing at least 12. Scuffles were reported in Yemen, while pro-reform marches in Egypt, Bahrain and Jordan were largely peaceful.

The large crowds signaled that the push for change in North Africa and the Middle East continues to build momentum. The first anti-government protests erupted several weeks ago, toppling rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and quickly spreading to other countries.

The situation remained most volatile in Libya, where longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi has cracked down hard on an 11-day-old rebellion after losing control over large chunks of the country.

In Tripoli, where Gadhafi remains in charge, protesters staged the first significant anti-government rallies in several days, trying to march from several districts to the central Green Square.

Protesters said they came under fire from pro-Gadhafi militias. One man among a crowd of thousands said gunmen on rooftops and in the streets opened fire with automatic weapons and even an anti-aircraft gun. "In the first wave of fire, seven people within 10 meters (yards) of me were killed. Many people were shot in the head," the man, who was marching from Tripoli's eastern Tajoura district, told The Associated Press. "It was really like we are dogs."

Across cities that have come under control of the rebels, tens of thousands held rallies to support their comrades in Tripoli.

Iraq saw its biggest and most violent anti-government protests since the wave of regional unrest began. Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in several cities, an outpouring of anger that left 12 people dead.