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In Libya, Tripoli saw an outbreak of major protests against Col. Gadhafi’s rule earlier this week, met with attacks by militiamen who shot protesters on sight and killed dozens. One morning earlier in the week, residents awoke and reported bodies littering the streets in some neighborhoods.

Pro-Gadhafi militiamen — a mix of Libyans and foreign mercenaries — have clamped down on the city since the Libyan leader went on state TV Tuesday night and called on his supporters to take back the streets. Residents say militiamen roam Tripoli’s main avenues, firing the air, while neighborhood watch groups have barricaded side streets trying to keep the fighters out and protesters lay low.

At the same time, regular security forces have launched raids on homes around the city. A resident in the Ben Ashour neighborhood said a number of SUVs full of armed men swept into his district Wednesday night, broke into his neighbor’s home and dragged out a family friend as women in the house screamed. He said other similar raids had taken place on Thursday in other districts.

“Now is the time of secret terror and secret arrests. They are going to go home to home and liquidate opponents that way, and impose his (Col. Gadhafi‘s) control on Tripoli,” said the witness.

Another Tripoli resident said armed militiamen had entered a hospital, searching for government rivals among the injured. He said a friend’s relative being treated there escaped only because doctors hid him.

Col. Gadhafi and his son, Seif al-Islam, have gone on state television over the past few days to try to portray the uprising as a choice between the order of the old regime or chaos, civil war and “rivers of blood” that could destroy the country’s oil wealth.

In his call to state TV, Col. Gadhafi alternated between bitterly lashing out at Zawiya’s residents — and by extension others in the population — for being ungrateful and telling them to control what he depicted as an uprising by misguided teenagers.

“If you want to destroy [the country], it’s your problem,” he said. “If you want to live in this chaos, you are free.”

“You should go out and stop the young people who are carrying RPGs and rifles,” he said. “If the men are afraid let the women go out.”

Earlier Thursday, Libyan TV showed Egyptian passports, CDs and cell phones purportedly belonging to detainees who had allegedly confessed to plotting “terrorist” operations against the Libyan people. Other footage showed a dozen men lying on the ground, with their faces down, blindfolded and handcuffed. Rifles and guns were laid out next to them.

Those who have joined the uprising dismissed his claim that it was led by al Qaeda.

“These are all lies,” said Col. Gadhafi’s former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who has sided with the opposition. “There are no al-Qaida, no terrorist organizations.”

In eastern, opposition-held Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, a prominent protest organizer who works closely with the administration now running the city, said his camp was “trying to fight the propaganda that the regime is trying to send all over the world, that we are calling an independent state in the state or that we are calling for an Islamic state.”

El Deeb reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael and Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.

 

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