Administration treads carefully on Libya, Bahrain pro-democracy protest violence

The Obama administration remained careful Sunday on its responses to government crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations in Libya and Bahrain.

Some observers have placed the death toll as high as 200 in Libya, where government snipers have been killing protesters and forces have been confronting those opposed to four-decade rule Moammar Gadhafi. The casualties are said to include children.

{mosads}U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if Gadhafi, with whom the U.S. has re-established diplomatic relations in recent years, is killing protesters.

Rice carefully said that the U.S. was having to rely on Internet and human rights groups’ reports because of the lack of media in the country.

“From what we can tell… there has been less violence, very little so far in Tripoli, though that maybe be changing in Benghazi and coastal areas,” she said. “We’re very concerned about reports of firing on peaceful protesters.”

The latest report Sunday said that Libyan forces fired machine guns at mourners marking the deaths of other protesters.

“We’re very concerned about the reports of violence and attacks on civilians,” Rice said.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton responded to Bahraini forces firing on encamped protesters who were staging a smaller-scale version of the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt.

“We’ve been very clear form the beginning that we do not want to see any violence,” she said. “We deplore it.”

Clinton was not asked about Libya in the interview taped Friday. But she said that Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, wasn’t being held to a different standard than other countries in the region experiencing protests against long-standing regimes.

“We try to hold everyone to a similar standard but we cannot dictate the outcome,” she said, adding that democracy is “not an easy journey for any people to make; there are many threats and problems along the way.”

Clinton said it was important to ensure that the “tragedy” of Iran after the overthrow of the shah does not play out in other countries with the process of diplomacy being “hijacked” by certain groups.

President Obama called King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on Friday to discuss the protests and “reiterated his condemnation of the violence used against peaceful protesters, and strongly urged the government of Bahrain to show restraint, and to hold those responsible for the violence accountable,” according to a readout from the White House.

On Saturday, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon followed up in a call with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.

“Mr Donilon reiterated the President’s condemnation of violence used against peaceful protesters, and expressed support for the steps that the Crown Prince has ordered taken to show restraint and initiate dialogue with all segments of Bahraini society,” the White House said in a statement.

“Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible,” Clinton said.

Rice also downplayed Sunday the prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining a strong hold in the new landscape of Egyptian politics.

“There’s no indication that the Brotherhood is going to dominate Egyptian politics,” she said. “This is a cross cutting movement for change” that takes into account all elements of society, she said.


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