“We are people who fight, we don’t surrender. Victory or death. We will not stop till we liberate all this country … The time of hypocrisy is over,” ex-justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil told cheering crowds.
“Libya is free and Gaddafi must go,” the crowds chanted.
The rebels pledged to take their uprising to Gadhafi’s stronghold of Tripoli. “The next round shall take place in the capital,” they shouted.
Fighters loyal to Gadhafi set up checkpoints in Tripoli, searching cars, ahead of planned anti-government protests Friday, raising fears of new bloodshed in the Libyan capital where a heavy crackdown the past week has spread fear among residents.
The opposition has called for protesters to march out of mosques after noon prayers in demonstrations demanding Gadhafi’s ouster. Similar protests last Friday were met by brutal retaliation.
About 1,200 protesters marched out of the Murad Agha mosque in Tripoli’s Tajoura district after noon prayers were completed. They chanted “the people want to bring the regime down” and waved the red, black and green flag of Libya’s pre-Gadhafi monarchy, adopted as the banner up the uprising.
“I am not afraid,” said one 29-year-old man among the protesters. He said in the protests a week ago one of his relatives was shot to death — not by militias, he said, but by a pro-Gadhafi infiltrator among the demonstrations. “There are many spies among us. But we want to show the world that we are not afraid” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation.
Control of the capital is crucial to the Libyan leader, since it remains his strongest remaining bastion amid the uprising that began on Feb. 15 and has broken the entire eastern half of Libya out of his control. Even some cities in the west near Tripoli have fallen to the uprising, and the opposition has repelled repeated attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces trying to take back the territories.
A large force from a brigade led by one of Gadhafi’s sons led a new attack Friday on Zawiya, the closest opposition-held city to Tripoli, a resident said. The troops from the Khamis Brigade — named after the son — attacked Zawiya’s western side, firing mortars and then engaging in battles of heavy machine-guns and automatic weapons with armed residents and allied army units, said the resident.
“Our men are fighting back the force, which is big,” the resident said. Zawiya, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) west of Tripoli, has beaten back several assaults the past week.
Throughout the night and into the early hours Friday, pro-Gadhafi forces also fired mortars and anti-aircraft guns at the outskirts of opposition-held Misrata, Libya’s third largest city located just east of Tripoli, a doctor in the city said. He said it appeared to be an intimidation tactic, causing no casualties.
The crisis has turned into something of deadlock between the two sides. Gadhafi’s forces have been unable to take back significant ground from the rebellion. At the same time, his opponents, made up of ragtag citizen militias backed by mutinous army units, don’t seem to have the capabilities to make a military move against territory still in regime hands.
Instead, the eastern-based opposition is hoping that residents of those areas — including Tripoli — will be able to rise up like they did in other cities where protesters drove out Gadhafi loyalists.
In the rebel-held areas Friday. Abdel Jalil warned: “There could be members of the old regime here among us. Your enemy can still put his people among you. Don’t listen to them and let them ruin our revolution.”
“The old regime is over,” he added. “You must keep all of Libya safe. Stop destroying buildings. They are ours now. It is being a bad Muslim to do something like this.”