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Libya: Tripoli residents say civilians being armed

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 26 2011 9:24 a.m. MST

Egyptian protesters chants slogans as they demand Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi step down during demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Feb. 25, 2011. Militias loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clashed with protesters streaming out of mosques in the Libyan capital on Friday, witnesses said, reporting at least four killed.

Kevin Frayer, Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — The embattled regime of Moammar Gadhafi is arming civilian supporters to set up checkpoints and roving patrols around the Libyan capital to control movement and quash dissent, residents said Saturday.

The reports came a day after protesters demanding Gadhafi's ouster came under heavy gunfire by pro-regime militiamen trying to stop the first significant anti-government marches in days in Tripoli.

Gadhafi, 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. Rebels hold a long sweep of about half of Libya's 1,000-mile (1,600- kilometer) Mediterranean coastline where most of the population lives.

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

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

The U.N. Security Council planned to meet later Saturday for a second day to consider an arms embargo against the Libyan government and a travel ban and asset freeze against Gadhafi, his relatives and key members of his government.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday freezing assets held by Gadhafi and four of his children in the United States. The Treasury Department said the sanctions against Gadhafi, three of his sons and a daughter also apply to the Libyan government.

Also Friday evening, pro-Gadhafi troops with tanks attacked the Misrata Air Base east of Tripoli that had fallen into rebel hands. They succeeded in retaking part of it in battles with residents and army units who had joined the anti-Gadhafi uprising, said a doctor and a 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.

In Tripoli, most residents stayed in their homes Saturday, terrified of bands of armed men running checkpoints and patrolling the city.

A 40-year-old business owner said he had seen Gadhafi supporters enter one of the regime's Revolutionary Committee headquarters Saturday and leave with arms. He said the regime is offering a car and money to any supporters bringing three people with them to join the effort.

"Someone from the old revolutionary committees will go with them so they'll be four," the witness said when reached by telephone from Cairo. "They'll arm them to drive around the city and terrorize people."

Other residents reported seeing trucks full of civilians with automatic rifles patrolling their neighborhoods. Many were young, even teenagers, and wore green arm bands or cloths on their heads to show their affiliation to the regime, residents said. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Tripoli, home to about a third of Libya's population of 6 million, is the center of the eroding territory that Gadhafi still controls.

Even in the Gadhafi-held pocket of northwestern Libya around Tripoli, several cities have also fallen to the rebellion. Militiamen and pro-Gadhafi troops were repelled when they launched attacks trying to take back opposition-held territory in Zawiya and Misrata in fighting that killed at least 30 people.

Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, told foreign journalists invited by the government to Tripoli that there were no casualties in Tripoli and that the capital was "calm ... Everything is peaceful. Peace is coming back to our country."

He said the regime wants negotiations with the opposition and said there were "two minor problems" in Misrata and Zawiya. There, he said, "we are dealing with terrorist people," hut he hoped to reach a peaceful settlement with them.

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