Armed pro-Gadhafi gangs roll in Libyan capital
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 11:54 PM
TRIPOLI, Libya -- 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.
As violence mounted, Gadhafi came under growing pressure from the international community to halt the crackdown on his people. Echoing moves by the United States, Britain and other nations, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday imposed sanctions, including an arms embargo and a travel ban, and said the International Criminal Court in the Hague should investigate.
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 (1,600-kilometer) 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.
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.
"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 toughened its response to the bloodshed, while Americans and other foreigners were evacuated from the chaos roiling the North African nation.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to slap sanctions on the Gadhafi regime. The council imposed an arms embargo and called on U.N. member states to freeze the assets of Gadhafi and his children. The council also imposed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and 10 close associates.
Council members also agreed 15-0 to refer the regime's deadly crackdown to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.