US urges reforms, condemns violence in Libya, Bahrain

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Sunday, 20 February 2011 16:37 GMT

(Adds details, Ambassador Rice's comments)

By Pedro Nicolaci da Costa

WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Top U.S. diplomats on Sunday condemned violent crackdowns on protesters in Libya and Bahrain but stopped short of calling for a change of government in countries facing a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Bahraini government should step up reform efforts rather than attacking peaceful protesters.

"We've been very clear from the beginning that we do not want to see any violence. We deplore it. We think it is absolutely unacceptable," Clinton told the ABC News program This Week, according to a transcript released by the network.

"We very much want to see the human rights of the people protected, including right to assemble, right to express themselves and we want to see reform," Clinton said.

Separately, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington was was deeply concerned by reports that Libyan and Bahraini security forces have lashed out at pro-democracy activists.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Rice rebutted accusations that the response of President Barack Obama's administration to a wave of pro-democracy protests in the Middle East and North Africa has been inconsistent.

"There's no place for violence against peaceful protesters," Rice said.

"What we're encouraging Bahrain and other governments in the region to do is to recognize that this is a yearning for change and reform that is not going to go away, that it needs to be respected and that they need to get ahead of it by leading rather than being pushed."

Protests have flared across the region as pro-democracy activists are emboldened by the overthrow of long-standing dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia.

Security forces in the Libyan city of Benghazi killed dozens of people as they fought to crush an uprising against leader Muammar Gaddafi's four-decade rule, the bloodiest of multiple revolts now rocking the Arab world.

In the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet's naval base has helped America project military power across the Middle East and South Asia since 1958, thousands of anti-government protesters camped over Saturday night in a Manama square.

But after days of violence in the Sunni-ruled island state, the mood appeared to be more conciliatory, with talks due to take place Sunday between the opposition and crown prince.

Unrest has also hit Yemen, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria and Djibouti over the weekend as people took to the streets demanding political and economic change. (Reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa; editing by Todd Eastham)

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