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February 25, 2011

Gadhafi militia open fire on Libya protesters

BENGHAZI, Libya — Militias loyal to Moammar Gadhafi opened fire Friday on protesters streaming out of mosques and marching across the Libyan capital to demand the regime's ouster, witnesses said, reporting at least four killed. In rebellious cities in the east, tens of thousands held rallies in support of the first Tripoli protests in days.

In the capital's Souq al-Jomaa district, protesters came under fire from gunmen on rooftops as they tried to march to Tripoli's central Green Square, several miles (kilometers) away. "There are all kind of bullets," said one man in the crowd, screaming in a telephone call to The Associated Press, with the rattle of gunfire audible in the background.

One witness reported seeing three protesters killed in Souq al-Jomaa, and another reported a fourth death in the district of Fashloum, where another rally was trying to march to the center. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Gunmen opened a hail of bullets on thousands heading toward the center from Tajoura, a crowded impoverished district on the eastern side of the capital, a participant said.

"We can't see where it is coming from," he said. "They don't want to stop." He said one man next to him was shot in the neck. Others reported gunfire near Green Square itself where dozens of militiamen opened fire in the air to disperse protesters coming out of a nearby mosque. Other armed Gadhafi supporters were speeding through streets in vehicles, said another witness.

The call for regime opponents to march from mosques after prayers was the first attempt to hold a major anti-Gadhafi rally in the capital since early this week, when militiamen launched a bloody crackdown on protesters that left dozens dead. In the morning and night before, SMS messages were sent around urging, "Let us make this Friday the Friday of liberation," residents said. The residents and witnesses all spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

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