Pro-Gadhafi Force Opens Fire on Tripoli Protest, Casualties Reported

Demonstration in Tajoura neighborhood gathered close to 10,000 people; Libya warplanes bomb circle rebel-held district in east; government vows to send aid to Benghazi, but says won't rule out military force against rebels.

Several people were killed and others wounded on Monday after forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi opened fire to disperse a protest in the capital, the online edition of Quryna newspaper reported.

The protest in the Tajoura neighborhood gathered close to 10,000 protesters, the Libyan newspaper said, quoting its correspondent in the capital Tripoli.

Libyan youths chant anti-Gadhafi slogans in the Tajoura neighborhood of Tripoli on February 28, 2011

"When the protesters reached the Souk Juma, they were joined by armed men from the Gadhafi battalion who were dressed as civilians and opened fire on the unarmed youths ... Many among the youths were wounded and killed," it said, referring to a market in Tripoli.

"The armed men then took the corpses of the dead, the wounded and even the bystanders who were near the wounded," it added. The report could not be immediately verified.

Also Monday, Libyan military aircraft circled a town in a rebel-held district, a security official said, adding that an earlier report they bombed an arms dump was incorrect.

"Two military aircraft came to Djabiya, circled and returned," said Fathi Abidy, a member of the security council set up by the temporary administration in Libya's main eastern city Benghazi.

"A different source told me earlier there had been an attack," he told Reuters, after he had earlier reported that an arms dump had been hit but no one was hurt.

Another senior security source had also confirmed that an arms dump was hit, but could not be reached again to comment on the revised report suggesting no attack took place.

Earlier Monday, the Libyan government said it would send an envoy to Benghazi, promising to deliver food, medicine and medical equipment to the riot-battered region.

"It will be this evening," said a source in the government, who did not want
to be named. "An envoy will depart from Tripoli to Benghazi. The envoy is carrying medicine and food and medical equipment to help the people in Benghazi."

The Qatar-based al Jazeera television earlier reported that Gadhafi had appointed an envoy to speak to the rebels based around Benghazi. But the government source made no mention of any planned negotiations.

According to the report, Gadhafi has appointed Libya's foreign intelligence chief, Bouzaid Dordah, to speak to the leadership of the eastern region.

But a Libyan official said the government would not shy away from military force against the rebels should dialogue fail.

Asked by reporters if Libya could use military force to retake rebel-held
cities, he said: "We will wait until all other attempts are exhausted. If all attempts and efforts for dialogue ... are exhausted, a very well guided force will be used in accordance with international rules."

A spokesman for the newly formed National Libyan Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi and which has described itself as the face of the revolution, said on Sunday that he saw no room for negotiation with Gadhafi.

Gadhafi's forces have been trying for days to push back a revolt that has won over large parts of the military, ended his control over eastern Libya and is holding the government at bay in western cities near the capital Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Libya's eastern rebel army has begun urging young men eager to dash west to engage Gadhafi's forces to wait so they can turn them into an effective fighting force.

Hundreds from the eastern city of Benghazi are setting off each day across the desert to Libya's capital, some carrying knives and assault rifles, residents told Reuters.

But rebel officers say many more stayed behind to gather at makeshift training camps in schools and burnt-out barracks.

"We can give them what they need: training in assault, in defending a position. They should know that we are here to protect the youth revolution," said Marai Lojeli, a colonel in his 50s.

In Libya's third city Misrata, and in Zawiyah, a strategic refinery town 30 miles to the west, rebels with military backing were holding the town centers on Monday against repeated government attacks.

Rebels in Misrata downed a military aircraft attempting to take back the area, a witness said.

"An aircraft was shot down this morning while it was firing on the local radio station. Protesters captured its crew," the witness, Mohamed, told Reuters by telephone.

"Fighting to control the military air base started last night and is still going on. Gadhafi's forces control only a small part of the base. Protesters control a large part of this base where there is ammunition."

Foreign governments are increasing the pressure on Gadhafi to leave in the hope of ending fighting that has claimed at least 1,000 lives and restoring order to a country that accounts for 2 percent of the world's oil production.

Regional experts expect rebels eventually to take the capital and kill or capture Gadhafi, but add that he has the firepower to foment chaos or civil war - a prospect he and his sons have warned of.

Rebels holding Zawiyah said about 2,000 troops loyal to Gadhafi had surrounded the city on Monday and vowed to "do our best to fight them off".

They will attack soon," said a former police major who switched sides and joined the rebellion. "If we are fighting for freedom, we are ready to die for it."

Residents even in parts of the capital Tripoli have thrown up barricades against government forces. A general in the east of the country, where Gadhafi's power has evaporated, told Reuters his forces were ready to help rebels in the west.

"Our brothers in Tripoli say: "We are fine so far, we do not need help'. If they ask for help we are ready to move," said General Ahmed el-Gatrani, one of most senior figures in the mutinous army in Benghazi.

Opposition forces are largely in control of Libya's oil facilities, which are mostly located in the east, and output has been reduced to a trickle.

Western leaders, emboldened by evacuations that have brought home many of their citizens from the vast desert state, have been speaking out clearly against Gadhafi.

Wealthy states have sent planes and ships to bring home expatriate workers but many more, from poorer countries, are stranded. Thousands of Egyptians streamed into Tunisia on Sunday, complaining Cairo had done nothing to help them.

The United Nations refugee agency said on Sunday nearly 100,000 people have fled violence in Libya in the past week in a growing humanitarian crisis.