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UN chief urges restraint by Arab leaders as protests continue

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has once again called for the non-use of force and respect for basic freedoms, as he voiced concern about reports of escalating violence and bloodshed amid the protests in North Africa and the Middle East.

�Stressing that utmost restraint must be exercised by all concerned, he wishes to reaffirm his conviction that this is the time for broad-based dialogue and for genuine social and political reform,� his spokesperson said in a statement issued Sunday night.

Mr. Ban has been closely following what has been taking place in the region, including Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and other countries, and is in continuous contact with leaders there to discuss developments, according to the statement.

�He has been encouraging them to listen to the aspirations of their people and respond to their legitimate aspirations. He has urged all parties to exercise restraint and especially to refrain from violence.�

The Secretary-General had an extensive conversation today with Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi on the deteriorating situation in that country, according to his spokesperson. Human rights groups have reported that over 200 people have died since last Thursday amid the Government's crackdown on protesters.

Mr. Ban expressed deep concern at the escalating scale of violence in Libya and emphasized that it must stop immediately. He reiterated his call for respect for basic freedoms and human rights, including peaceful assembly and information.

Yesterday the Secretary-General spoke to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and urged the Government to exercise maximum restraint as well as to calm the volatile situation in the Gulf nation. He welcomed the King's decision to initiate a dialogue, and reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to support such a process, if requested.

In addition, he has agreed to dispatch senior UN officials to Egypt following conversations with the country's top leadership.

Last Friday, the UN human rights chief denounced the violence by security forces against protesters in Libya, Bahrain and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa as illegal and excessively heavy-handed.

�The nature and scope of the human rights violations taking place in several countries in the region in response to those who are largely demonstrating peacefully for their fundamental human rights and freedoms is alarming,� said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

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