Armed pro-Gaddafi gangs roll in Libyan capital

Residents of Tripoli spread concrete blocks to prevent young men wielding automatic weapons from entering their neighborhood.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 26, 2011 15:15
2 minute read.
Libyan protesters shout slogans against Gaddafi

Libyan Protesters holding sign 311. (photo credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The embattled Libyan regime passed out guns to civilian supporters, set up checkpoints Saturday and sent armed patrols roving the terrorized capital to try to maintain control of Muammar Gaddafi's stronghold and quash dissent as rebels consolidate control elsewhere in the North African nation.

Residents of its eastern Tajoura district spread concrete blocks, large rocks and even chopped-down palm trees as makeshift barricades to prevent the SUVs filled with young men wielding automatic weapons from entering their neighborhood — a hotspot of previous protests.

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With tensions running high in Tripoli, scores of people in the neighborhood turned out at a funeral for a 44-year-old man killed in clashes with pro-regime forces. Anwar Algadi was killed Friday, with the cause of death listed as "a live bullet to the head," according to his brother, Mohammed.

Armed men in green armbands, along with uniformed security forces check those trying to enter the district, where graffiti that says "Gaddafi, you Jew," ''Down to the dog," and "Tajoura is free" was scrawled on walls.

Outside the capital, rebels held a long swath of about half of Libya's 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Mediterranean coastline where most of the population lives, and even captured a brigadier general and a soldier Saturday as the Libyan army tried to retake an air base east of Tripoli. The state-run news agency also said the opposition held an air defense commander and several other officers.

On Friday, pro-Gaddafi militiamen — including snipers — fired on protesters trying to mount the first significant anti-government marches in days in Tripoli.

Gaddafi, speaking from the ramparts of a historic Tripoli fort, told supporters to prepare to defend the nation as he faced the biggest challenge to his 42-year rule.

"At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire," Gaddafi said.

The international community toughened its response to the bloodshed, while Americans and other foreigners were evacuated from the chaos roiling the North African nation.

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