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Libyan Protesters Brace for Violence in Tripoli


A Libyan army paratrooper who defected and joined the popular uprising against leader Moammar Gadhafi loads an anti-aircraft machine gun atop a truck in the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi, February 26, 2011

A Libyan army paratrooper who defected and joined the popular uprising against leader Moammar Gadhafi loads an anti-aircraft machine gun atop a truck in the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi, February 26, 2011

Opposition protesters in Libya could be facing increased pressure Saturday to end their efforts to oust leader Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi Friday offered to arm civilian supporters across the country in an effort to quash dissent.

On Friday, thousands of opposition protesters staged a new push to oust Gadhafi. Protesters amassed in cities including Benghazi, where anti-Gadhafi forces appear to be in control.

Meanwhile, news agencies quoted residents as saying forces loyal to Gadhafi opened fire in several districts of Tripoli after protesters began marching in the capital following Friday prayers.

Towards dusk, Libyan state television showed Gadhafi addressing supporters in Tripoli. The impassioned speech was directed at the country's youth, with the Libyan leader urging them to defend the nation.

The address was Gadhafi's third speech this week. In an audio speech carried on state television on Thursday, he accused al-Qaida forces of playing a role in the country's unrest.

Tripoli is the center of the shrinking territory that Gadhafi's regime still controls. The uprising that began last week has put the eastern part of the country under opposition control, and support for the anti-government movement is growing in the west.

Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam on Friday spoke to foreign journalists invited to Tripoli by the government. Speaking in English, the British-educated younger Gadhafi said there were no casualties in Tripoli and that the capital is calm and peaceful. He also said the government was in negotiations with the opposition and that all problems will be "solved" by Saturday.

The force that has attacked rebels on behalf of the government is one that Gadhafi - distrustful of his own generals - has built up steadily for years. It is made up of special brigades headed by his sons, segments of the military loyal to his native tribe and its allies, and legions of African mercenaries.

The overall death toll has been impossible to determine but is said to be in the hundreds. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday more than 1,000 people have likely been killed in Libya's weeklong uprising. Tens of thousands are fleeing the country - to Tunisia, Egypt and Malta - including members of the government.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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