Gadhafi rallies supporters amid widening protests

Cairo, Feb 18 (AP) Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi drovethrough his nation''s capital in a motorcade, drawing acheering crowd as the long-time ruler tried to rally supportamid reports of widening anti-government protests.

Protests have erupted in several cities in Libya thisweek, especially in the east, and the US-based Human RightsWatch said today that 24 people were killed in unrest onWednesday and Thursday.

Gadhafi''s open-roofed car slowly made its way throughthe streets of the capital Tripoli late Thursday. In footagebroadcast by Libyan TV, the motorcade was thronged by cheeringsupporters.

Some pushed toward the car to try to reach Gadhafi andshake hands. "We do not want any other leader but Gadhafi!"one woman shouted.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, hundreds ofprotesters camped out Friday in the center of the city. Callsto join funeral processions for those killed in clashes withpro-government forces spread on Facebook and websites.

One of the protesters, Nizar Jebail, owner of anadvertising company, said he spent the night in front of thecity''s court building. He said he wants not just reforms, "butfreedom and equality."

"There are lawyers, judges, men and some women here,demanding the ouster of Gadhafi. Forty-two years ofdictatorship are enough," he told The Associated Press byphone.

"We don''t have tents yet but residents provided uswith blankets and food. We learned from Tunisia and Egypt," hesaid. The wave of protests that has swept across the MiddleEast has brought unprecedented pressure on leaders likeGadhafi who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.

As in Egypt and Yemen, however, government supportershave clashed with the demonstrators and Jebail said hisbrother and nephew are in critical condition after beingbeaten by the Libyan leader''s Revolutionary Committees.

Other eyewitnesses in Berka district in Benghazi said Africanrefugees carrying Gadhafi pictures and green flags were bussedin, chanting "long live Gadhafi."

The move to restore Gadhafi''s image came as the Libyanopposition said police in some cities had gone over to theprotesters.

According to Mohammed Ali Abdullah, deputy leader ofthe exiled National Front for the Salvation of Libya, saidthat because local police and residents in the town of Beydabelong to the same tribe, "it was impossible for the police tokeep attacking its own people." His account could not beindependently verified.

Libyan state run TV and news agency JANA showedthousands of people rallying behind Gadhafi''s convoy, whichtoured Tripoli late Thursday.

Meanwhile, a pro-Gadhafi online paper Quryna said thatGadhafi''s son, al-Saadi, a wealthy businessman and a formerfootball player has visited security forces in eastern regionwhere many of the protests took place to offer financial help.


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