EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World News

February 21, 2011

Libya launches harshest crackdown yet on protesters

(Continued)

Later, however, a Benghazi resident said he received a telephone text message that an army battalion that appeared to be sympathetic to the demonstrators and led by a local officer was arriving to take over control of the compound, and urging civilians to get out of the way.

Abdul-Rahman, the local merchant, said he saw the battalion chase the pro-Gadhafi militia out of the compound.

Libya's rebellion by those frustrated with Gadhafi's more than 40 years of authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen eastern cities.

In Tripoli, a Gadhafi stronghold, there have been few reports of protests said to have been quickly put down. Secret police were heavily deployed on the streets of the city of 2 million.

On Sunday, however, armed security forces were seen on rooftops surrounding central Green Square, a witness said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The witness added that a group of about 200 lawyers and judges were protesting inside a Tripoli courthouse, which was also surrounded by security forces.

An exiled opposition leader in Cairo said hundreds of protesters were near the Bab al-Aziziya military camp where Gadhafi lives on the outskirts of Tripoli. Faiz Jibril said his contacts inside Libya were also reporting that hundreds of protesters had gathered in another downtown plaza, Martyrs Square.

Libyan state TV showed Gadhafi in Tripoli being cheered by supporters, including tribesmen and women chanting "God, Moammar and Libya — that is all."

Khaled Abu Bakr, a resident of Sabratha, an ancient Roman city to the west, said protesters besieged the local security headquarters, driving out police and setting it on fire. Abu Bakr said residents are in charge, have set up neighborhood committees to secure their city. "The police dropped their weapons. We contacted the army headquarters and they are sympathetic," he said.

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