(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
BENGHAZI, Libya — Militias loyal to Muammar Gaddafi fired in the air Friday to disperse marches by regime opponents defying a fierce clampdown to attempt their first major protest in the Libyan capital Tripoli in days. Across rebellious cities in the east, thousands held rallies in support of the Tripoli protesters.
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Protesters streamed out of a mosque in central Tripoli after prayers, chanting for Gaddafi's ouster, and they were confronted by a force of troops and militiamen near Green Square, said one witness. The militiamen fired in the air, sending some in the anti-Gaddafi crowd running, he said.
"The situation is chaotic in parts of Tripoli now," he said, adding that armed Gaddafi supporters were also speeding through some streets in vehicles. Other residents reported gunfire heard in other districts of the capital.
The call for regime opponents march from mosques after prayers was the first attempt to hold a major anti-Gaddafi rally in the capital — the Libyan leaders biggest remaining stronghold — since bloody clashes Tuesday night. SMS messages were sent around urging, "Let us make this Friday the Friday of liberation," residents said.
Starting Friday morning, Gaddafi militiamen set up heavy security around
many mosques in the city, intimidating opposition worshippers. Armed
young men with green armbands to show their support of Gaddafi set up
checkpoints on many streets, stopping cars and searching them. Tanks and
checkpoints lined the road to Tripoli's airport, witnesses said.
Tripoli, home to nearly a third of Libya's 6 million people, is the
center of the territory that remains under Gaddafi's control after the
uprising that began Feb. 15 swept over nearly the entire eastern half of
the country, breaking cities there out of his regime's hold.
Even in the pocket of northwestern Libya around Tripoli, several cities
have also fallen into the hands of the rebellion. Militiamen and Gaddafi
forces on Thursday were repelled in trying to take back territory in
the cities of Zawiya and Misrata in fighting that killed at least 30