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Armed pro-Gadhafi gangs roll in Libyan capital
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The embattled Libyan regime passed out guns to civilian supporters, set up checkpoints Saturday and sent armed patrols roving the terrorized capital to try to maintain control of Moammar Gadhafi’s stronghold and quash dissent as rebels consolidate control elsewhere in the North African nation.
Residents of its eastern Tajoura district spread concrete blocks, large rocks and even chopped-down palm trees as makeshift barricades to prevent the SUVs filled with young men wielding automatic weapons from entering their neighborhood — a hotspot of previous protests.
With tensions running high in Tripoli, scores of people in the neighborhood turned out at a funeral for a 44-year-old man killed in clashes with pro-regime forces. Anwar Algadi was killed Friday, with the cause of death listed as “a live bullet to the head,” according to his brother, Mohammed.
Armed men in green armbands, along with uniformed security forces check those trying to enter the district, where graffiti that says “Gadhafi, you Jew,” ”Down to the dog,” and “Tajoura is free” was scrawled on walls.
Outside the capital, rebels held a long swath of about half of Libya’s 1,000-mile Mediterranean coastline where most of the population lives, and even captured a brigadier general and a soldier Saturday as the Libyan army tried to retake an air base east of Tripoli. The state-run news agency also said the opposition held an air defense commander and several other officers.
On Friday, pro-Gadhafi militiamen — including snipers — fired on protesters trying to mount the first significant anti-government marches in days in Tripoli.
Col. 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.
The international community toughened 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 began deliberations to consider an arms embargo against the Libyan government and a travel ban and asset freeze against Col. Gadhafi, his relatives and key members of his government. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said some estimates indicate more than 1,000 people have been killed in less than two weeks since the protests broke out in Libya.
President Obama signed an executive order Friday freezing assets held by Col. Gadhafi and four of his children in the United States. The Treasury Department said the sanctions against Col. Gadhafi, three of his sons and a daughter also apply to the Libyan government.
In Tripoli, most residents stayed in their homes Saturday, terrified of bands of armed men at 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 the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
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