Protesters hit by hail of gunfire in Libya march

By Paul Schemm

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 25 2011 3:45 p.m. MST

Libyan protesters offer their Friday prayers as they gather at the court square to protest against Libyan Leader Moammar Ghadafi, in Benghazi, Libya, on Friday Feb. 25, 2011. Militias loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are reported to have opened fire on protesters streaming out of mosques in the Libyan capital on Friday, witnesses said, reporting at least four killed.

Hussein Malla, Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya — Protesters demanding Moammar Gadhafi's ouster came under a hail of bullets Friday when pro-regime militiamen opened fire to stop the first significant anti-government marches in days in the Libyan capital. The Libyan leader, speaking from the ramparts of a historic Tripoli fort, told supporters to prepare to defend the nation.

Witnesses reported multiple deaths from gunmen on rooftops and in the streets shooting at crowds with automatic weapons and even an anti-aircraft gun.

"It was really like we are dogs," one man who was marching from Tripoli's eastern Tajoura district told The Associated Press. He added that many people were shot in the head, with seven people within 10 yards (meters) of him cut down in the first wave.

Also Friday evening, troops loyal to Gadhafi attacked a major air base east of Tripoli that had fallen into rebel hands.

A force of tanks attacked the Misrata Air Base, succeeding in retaking part of it in battles with residents and army units who had joined the anti-Gadhafi uprising, said a doctor and one resident wounded in the battle on the edge of opposition-held Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) from the capital.

The opposition captured two fighters, including a senior officer, and still held part of the large base, they said. Shooting could still be heard from the area after midnight. The doctor said 22 people were killed in two days of fighting at the air base and an adjacent civilian airport.

In Washington, the White House said it was moving forward with plans to impose unilateral sanctions on Libya in response to the regime's bloody crackdown in the 11-day-old uprising. Hundreds have been killed, but rebels have taken control of nearly the entire eastern half of the country, as well as cities close to Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital.

A White House spokesman said it is clear that Gadhafi's legitimacy has been "reduced to zero" — the Obama administration's sharpest words yet. The U.S. also temporarily abandoned its embassy in Tripoli as a final flight carrying American citizens departed from the capital.

The U.N. Security Council met to consider possible sanctions against Gadhafi's regime, including trade sanctions and an arms embargo. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged it take "concrete action" to protect civilians in Libya, saying "the violence must stop" and those responsible for "so brutally shedding blood" must be punished.

But Gadhafi vowed to fight on. In the evening, he appeared before a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters in Green Square and called on them to fight back and "defend the nation."

"Retaliate against them, retaliate against them," Gadhafi said, speaking by microphone from the ramparts of the Red Castle, a Crusader fort overlooking the square. Wearing a fur cap, he shook his fist, telling the crowd: "Dance, sing and prepare. Prepare to defend Libya, to defend the oil, dignity and independence."

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

The crowd waved pictures of the leader and green flags as he said, "I am in the middle of the people in the Green Square. ... This is the people that loves Moammar Gadhafi. If the people of Libya and the Arabs and Africans don't love Moammar Gadhafi then Moammar Gadhafi does not deserve to live."

Earlier his son, Seif al-Islam, was asked in an interview with CNN-Turk about the options in the face of the unrest. "Plan A is to live and die in Libya, Plan B is to live and die in Libya, Plan C is to live and die in Libya," he replied.

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