Gadhafi rallies supporters amid widening protests

Friday 18 February 2011 16:03 GMT

Libyan leader Colonel Gadhafi's regime in Libya deployed security forces throughout the restive country and bluntly warned citizens today against joining the unrest in which dozens of protesters have been killed.

Demonstrations against Gadhafi's rule have erupted in several Libyan cities this week, especially in the east, and the US-based Human Rights Watch said that 24 people died in unrest Wednesday and Thursday. But a hospital official in the eastern city of Beyida told The Associated Press today that the bodies of at least 23 dead protesters were at his facility, which was treating about 500 wounded — some in the car park for lack of beds.

"We need doctors, medicine and everything," he said.

The wave of pro-democracy protest that has swept across the Middle East has brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gadhafi, who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.

The man who has controlled Libya since 1969 rode in a motorcade through the nation's capital of Tripoli on Thursday and, according to eyewitnesses, also sent out forces that included French-speaking fighters.

Witnesses in Beyida and Zentan, 75 miles south of Tripoli, said "special militia" units called Khamis Brigades were deployed in their cities.

In Beyida, local police — who are in the same tribe as residents — allied with protesters and prevented attacks from the militia, according to a witness and Mohammed Ali Abdullah, deputy leader of the exiled National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

"I saw African migrants and I saw Tunisians among the militia," the local eyewitness said.

In Zentan, a female eyewitness said a Khamis Brigades unit attacked the city after protesters set fire to police stations and sprayed graffiti on the walls that read: "Down with Gadhafi."

Officials with loudspeakers offered money for residents to stop protesting.

Their message was, "we can give you money; whatever you want, we can provide," said the woman, who was standing at the top of her building. "Then they cut electricity and water. This is a mountain area and the weather is chilly."

Residents of Tripoli, where small protests took place in central districts, said that they received a text message to their mobile phones. The message warned people "who dare to violate the four red lines" which include Gadhafi himself, national security, oil and Libyan territory, one woman who received the message said.

Already, a newspaper regarded as a Gadhafi mouthpiece had threatened demonstrators.

"Whoever tries to violate them or touch them will be committing suicide and playing with fire," an editorial of Az-Zahf Al-Akhdar, or the Green March newspaper said on Thursday.

Armoured vehicles, again with French-speaking soldiers, roamed the streets chasing protesters, according to the local eyewitness. Helicopters hovered low over demonstrators' heads.

"They are trying to scare the youth," the eyewitness said. "Many were detained."

In the eastern city of Benghazi, thousands of protesters marched in funeral processions to bury the victims who were shot dead during the past two days.

One of the protesters, Nizar Jebail, owner of an advertising company, said he spent the night in front of the city's court building. He said he wants not just reforms, "but freedom and equality."

"There are lawyers, judges, men and some women here, demanding the ouster of Gadhafi. Forty-two years of dictatorship are enough," he said by phone.

"We don't have tents yet but residents provided us with blankets and food," he said. "We learned from Tunisia and Egypt."

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