Image: Roadblock seen through car windscreen in Tripoli
Ben Curtis  /  AP
An impromptu roadblock is seen through a car windscreen in Tripoli, on Saturday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/26/2011 9:33:47 PM ET 2011-02-27T02:33:47

The embattled Libyan regime passed out guns to civilian supporters, set up checkpoints Saturday and sent armed patrols roving the terrorized capital to try to maintain control of Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold and quash dissent as rebels consolidate control elsewhere in the North African nation.

Residents of its eastern Tajoura district spread concrete blocks, large rocks and even chopped-down palm trees as makeshift barricades to prevent the SUVs filled with young men wielding automatic weapons from entering their neighborhood — a hotspot of previous protests.

With tensions running high in Tripoli, scores of people in the neighborhood turned out at a funeral for a 44-year-old man killed in clashes with pro-regime forces. Anwar Algadi was killed Friday, with the cause of death listed as "a live bullet to the head," according to his brother, Mohammed.

Armed men in green armbands, along with uniformed security forces check those trying to enter the district, where graffiti that says "Gadhafi, you Jew," "Down to the dog," and "Tajoura is free" was scrawled on walls.

Outside the capital, rebels held a long swath of about half of Libya's 1,000-mile Mediterranean coastline where most of the population lives, and even captured a brigadier general and a soldier Saturday as the Libyan army tried to retake an air base east of Tripoli. The state-run news agency also said the opposition held an air defense commander and several other officers.

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Troops loyal to Gadhafi engaged in heavy fighting with rebel forces overnight into Saturday in the oil refining town of Zawiyah west of Tripoli, a resident said.

At least 50 civilians were killed and as many were severely wounded in the fighting in the town, some 30 miles from the capital, said the resident, who gave his name only as Ibrahim.

The 45-year-old, speaking by telephone from Zawiyah, said a "mercenary force" had used heavy artillery to raid the town's Martyrs Square and taken at least 30 civilians to an unknown location.

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"The heavy artillery was mounted on four-wheel-drive vehicles and they indiscriminately sprayed dwellers in the square. Youths, children, elderly and women have died. I have counted the casualties," he told Reuters by telephone.

Between 50 and 60 civilians were killed, he said.

"Some buried their kin in the square while others were buried in the town's cemetery ... About 50 were severely wounded, many of them may not make it," he said.

"They have also taken at least 30 mostly young men aged between 17 and 35 to an unknown location," he added. His account could not immediately be corroborated.

On Friday, pro-Gadhafi militiamen — including snipers — fired on protesters trying to mount the first significant anti-government marches in days in Tripoli.

Gadhafi, speaking from the ramparts of a historic Tripoli fort, told supporters to prepare to defend the nation as he faced the biggest challenge to his 42-year rule.

"At the suitable time, we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire," Gadhafi said.

The international community toughened its response to the bloodshed, while Americans and other foreigners were evacuated from the chaos roiling the North African nation.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to slap sanctions on the Gadhafi regime . The council imposed an arms embargo and called on U.N. member states to freeze the assets of Gadhafi and his children. The council also imposed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and 10 close associates.

Council members also agreed 15-0 to refer the regime's deadly crackdown to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.

The action came after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said some estimates indicate more than 1,000 people have been killed in less than two weeks since the protests broke out in Libya.

President Barack Obama said Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy to rule and must step down immediately. Obama, who made the comments Saturday to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, signed an executive order a day earlier that froze assets held by Gadhafi and four of his children in the United States.

Video: Tale of two cities: Rivals jostle for Tripoli (on this page)

In Tripoli, most residents stayed in their homes Saturday, terrified of bands of armed men at checkpoints and patrolling the city.

A 40-year-old business owner said he had seen Gadhafi supporters enter one of the regime's Revolutionary Committee headquarters Saturday and leave with arms. He said the regime is offering a car and money to any supporters bringing three people with them to join the effort.

"Someone from the old revolutionary committees will go with them so they'll be four," the witness said when reached by telephone from Cairo. "They'll arm them to drive around the city and terrorize people."

Other residents reported seeing trucks full of civilians with automatic rifles patrolling their neighborhoods. Many were young, even teenagers, and wore green arm bands or cloths on their heads to show their affiliation to the regime, residents said. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Video: Opposition strives to build a freer Benghazi (on this page)

Tripoli, home to about a third of Libya's population of 6 million, is the center of the eroding territory that Gadhafi still controls.

Even in the Gadhafi-held pocket of northwestern Libya around Tripoli, several cities have also fallen to the rebellion. Militiamen and pro-Gadhafi troops were repelled when they launched attacks trying to take back opposition-held territory in Zawiya and Misrata in fighting that killed at least 30 people.

Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, told foreign journalists invited by the government to Tripoli that there were no casualties in Tripoli and that the capital was "calm."

"Everything is peaceful," he said. "Peace is coming back to our country."

He said the regime wants negotiations with the opposition and said there were "two minor problems" in Misrata and Zawiya. There, he said, "we are dealing with terrorist people," hut he hoped to reach a peaceful settlement with them.

Most shops in Tripoli were closed and long lines formed at bakeries as people ventured out for supplies.

In the Souq al-Jomaa neighborhood, piles of ashes stood in front of a burned-out police station. Graffiti on the walls read, "Down, down with Gadhafi." Elsewhere, shattered glass and rocks littered the streets.

A law school graduate walking to his house in the Fashloum area said he had seen many people killed by snipers in recent days.

"People are panicked, they are terrified. Few leave their houses. When it gets dark, you can't walk in the streets because anybody who walks is subject to be shot to death," he said.

He said Gadhafi's use of force against protesters had turned him against the regime.

"We Libyans cannot hear that there were other Libyans killed and remain silent," he said. "Now everything he says is a lie."

In Tripoli's Green Square, where state television has shown crowds of Gadhafi supporters in recent days, armed security men in blue uniforms were stationed around the plaza. Pro-Gadhafi billboards and posters were everywhere. A burned restaurant was the only sign of the unrest.

Supporters in about 50 cars covered with Gadhafi posters drove slowly around the square, waving green flags from the windows and honking horns. A camera crew filmed the procession.

Taxi driver Nasser Mohammed was among those who had a picture of Gadhafi and a green flag on his car.

"Have you heard the speech last night?" he asked. "It was great. Libyans don't want anyone but Gadhafi. He gave us loans."

Mohammed, 25, said each family will receive 500 Libyan dinars (about $400) after the start of the protests, plus the equivalent of about $100 credit for phone service. State TV said the distribution will take place starting Sunday.

Gadhafi loyalists manned a street barricade, turning away motorists trying to enter. After turning around, the drivers were then stopped at another checkpoint, manned by armed men in uniform, who searched cars and checked IDs of drivers and passengers.

In Misrata, a resident said the opposition was still in control of the city, which was calm Saturday, with many shops open and a local committee running civic affairs.

But the opposition only held parts of the sprawling Misrata Air Base after Friday's attack by Gadhafi supporters, he added.

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest (on this page)

The troops used tanks against the rebels at the base and succeeded in retaking part of it in battles with residents and army units who had joined the uprising against Gadhafi, said a doctor and a resident wounded in the battle on the edge of opposition-held Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) from the capital. The doctor said 25 people were killed in fighting at the base since Thursday.

The resident said pro-Gadhafi troops captured several members of the opposition Friday and now the two sides are talking about a possible swap since the opposition also captured a soldier and a brigadier general. Libyan state TV confirmed that army Brig. Gen. Abu Bakr Ali was captured, although it said he was "kidnapped by terrorist gangs." The state-run news agency JANA also said regime opponents held the commander of the air defense's 2nd Division and several other officers.

State-run TV reported that the website of the JANA news agency was hacked.

A Libyan Islamist activist, Mokhtar al-Mahmoudi, was arrested in Tajoura on Thursday, according to his daughter Fatma al-Mahmoudi, who lives in Morocco. She said a neighbor also was arrested.

Al-Mahmoudi was arrested in 1998 over his ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and spent eight years in prison, she said.

The opposition also held complete control of Sabratha, a town west of Tripoli famed for nearby ancient Roman ruins, with no police or any security forces associated with the Gadhafi regime, said Khalid Ahmed, a resident. He added that tribes were trying to organize a march on Tripoli, although a checkpoint outside the capital would stop anyone from entering.

"All of Libya is together," Ahmed said. "We are not far from toppling the regime."

Thousands of evacuees from Libya reached ports Saturday across the Mediterranean, with many more still trying to flee the North African nation by sea, air or land.

More than 2,800 Chinese workers landed in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete aboard a Greek ship Saturday, while another 2,200 Chinese arrived in Valletta, the capital of Malta, on a ship from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi.

Thousands of expatriates streamed out of Libya at the bustling Tunisian border, most of them Egyptians and Tunisians.

More than 20,000 have arrived since early this week, said Heinke Veit of the European Union Humanitarian Aid group. Food, water and medical help is available, as are facilities to contact their families.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Tale of two cities: Rivals jostle for Tripoli

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest

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