Monday, February 28, 2011

Demonstrators take to streets in Libyan capital

An anti-Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi protester shouts slogans during a protest, in Benghazi on Monday Feb. 28, 2011. (AP / Hussein Malla)     

Demonstrators take to streets in Libyan capital

Several hundred demonstrators were reportedly marching in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, chanting slogans against Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The protest involving about 300 people formed after the funeral of someone who had been killed in an attack by pro-Gadhafi militants.

The capital is one of Gadhafi's few remaining strongholds. Rebel groups have established control over large swaths of the east, including much of the nation's oil infrastructure.

There have been widespread reports of armed militia loyal to Gadhafi patrolling the streets and waging violence against demonstrators during clashes over the past two weeks.

In recent days gunmen have further clamped down on the capital, setting up checkpoints and patrols in an attempt to muzzle protests.

CTV's Janis Mackey Frayer said tanks and barricades are being set up around the city to prevent rebel groups from entering.

Many military members -- both officers and enlisted members -- have defected to the rebels and an active recruitment drive is underway to encourage them to do so, Mackey Frayer said.

"They're calling on ex-soldiers to come back and fight for them, fight for what they call the 'new Libya,'" she said.

"They're gathering their weapons and they're planning to march on Tripoli if that's what's needed to topple Gadhafi from power."

Meanwhile, the first international aid shipments are expected to arrive in Libya on Monday, offering some relief to the deeply divided nation.

French officials announced Monday the country was sending two planeloads of aid that would include doctors, nurses, medicine and medical equipment to Libya.

The planes would be destined for "liberated territories" in the east of the country and would represent "the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support," said Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

The French planes were to land in Benghazi.

The aid comes as the U.S., U.K., Canada and the UN Security Council all announced sanctions for Libya over the weekend.

In Tripoli, where Gadhafi is believed to be holed up, there were attempts to restore some semblance of normalcy on Monday.

Stores in the downtown reopened and many residents lined up at banks seeking the $400 per family payout Gadhafi was offering to citizens, in a bid to strengthen support.

The promised cash comes amid reports that food prices had skyrocketed in the capital, with rice hitting the equivalent of $40 for a five-kilogram bag.

Some schools reopened Monday, but only for half a day.

The most recent violence in the capital was on Friday, when reports said that pro-Gadhafi militias fired on demonstrators. Since then the city has been largely quiet.

International pressure has been mounting for Gadhafi to step down.

Over the weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama called Gadhafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power immediately.

Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Gadhafi to "call off the mercenaries" and other troops said to be waging a violent campaign against demonstrators.

"We've been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves westward there as well," Clinton said.

"I think it's way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we're going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States."

Gadhafi, meanwhile, has vowed he will die a martyr on Libyan soil before leaving the country.

With files from The Associated Press