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Protesters outside White House urge Obama to help Libya

By Mary Grace Lucas, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • About 200 people called for Obama to help end violence in Libya
  • Protests have turned deadly between protesters and soldiers in the North African nation
  • Libyans in the U.S. are hearing from family members abroad about the crackdown

Washington (CNN) -- About 200 people demonstrated in front of the White House on Saturday challenging President Obama to help end recent violence in Libya.

The group was responding to reports of bloody clashes between protesters and soldiers in the isolated North African nation.

Malik Sahad, who helped organize the event outside the White House, said Libyans are now smuggling stories to the outside world via social media, essentially creating their own news coverage in hopes that the international community will step in.

"We have people that are risking their lives, who are finding ways to send their messages, their videos, their recaps, their recounts of what's been going on," Sahad said. "They're asking us, 'Where is the media? Where is the rest of the world? We don't have cameramen down here. We don't have Anderson Cooper down here. We don't have people on the ground level to give us support and to show the rest of the world what we've been going though.'"

In Libya on Saturday, protests again turned violent with the death and injury toll still unclear. CNN cannot independently confirm information on the escalating unrest in Libya. The government has not responded to repeated requests from CNN for access to the country and maintains tight control over communications.

Sahad said his friends tell him Moammar Gadhafi's forces responded almost immediately to the initial protests.

"(Protesters in Libya) have been met within hours with gunfire. They've been met within hours with thugs. (Ousted Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak waited a week to send out his thugs. Gaddafi waited three hours to send out his thugs."

Sahad said he's lived in the United States most of his life but still has family in Libya.

Protester Hussein El Shafei said he's receiving frantic phone calls from people all over Benghazi, Libya, and wept as he described pleas for help from the international community.

"You can see through my voice now when I talk, I'm under pressure. I can't even control myself, you know. Because they're my people, my cousins, my nieces, my mama, sisters, my brothers [are] dying," he said. "And, I just got off the phone. Everybody in this crowd heard this. They said, 'Hussein, call the international community! We need people to get intervention. They need to get intervention, man. They need to get inside Libya.'"

El Shafei said he was held for years in Tripoli's Abu Salim prison on political charges. A Human Rights Watch report said there are allegations that 1,200 prisoners were massacred there during the summer of 1996. Shafei, who said he eventually applied for asylum and now lives in the United States, said he witnessed the killings then.

"What's going on the ground in Libya reminds me of what happened 15 years ago," El Shafei said. "They're saying (Gadhafi) shut the emergency rooms and he shut communication, and some district in Libya, the electricity, the water lines, and people are dying."