WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The United States has raised "strong objections" to Libya's use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators, a State Department spokesman said Sunday.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said the United States is "gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images" emanating from Libya.
"We are working to ascertain the facts, but we have received multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in several days of unrest -- and the full extent of the death toll is unknown due to the lack of access of international media and human rights organizations," Crowley said in a statement.
"We have raised to a number of Libyan officials, including Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, our strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. We reiterated to Libyan officials the importance of universal rights, including freedom of speech and peaceful assembly."
He said Libyan officials responded that they are committed to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest.
Protests also have broken out in Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco and other countries in the region.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by phone Sunday with Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, underscoring the need for restraint by the security forces in Bahrain. She said the United States has welcomed steps by Bahraini Crown Prince Selman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to initiate meaningful talks "with the full spectrum of Bahraini society," a State Department release said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, to begin a swing through the Middle East in an attempt to shore up confidence in the United States' commitment to regional stability. He said he was "stunned" by the sequence of popular uprisings.
"The speed with which this has happened has really taken me aback," Mullen said. "And I think this speed is going to continue."
Mullen also will make stops in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Djibouti and Kuwait.