Gadhafi Arms Civilian Supporters
Plus: Security forces violently crack down on protesters
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2011 6:08 AM CST
Updated Feb 26, 2011 8:02 AM CST
A Libyan protester displays a sign during a demonstration against Libyan Leader Moammar Ghadafi before Friday prayers, in Benghazi, Libya, on Friday Feb. 25, 2011.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

(Newser) – Terrified protesters in Libya say that Moammar Gadhafi is arming civilian supporters so that they can, as one protester tells the AP, "drive around the city and terrorize people." Says another, "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." The news comes after Gadhafi’s security forces cracked down yesterday on protesters in Libya’s capital city, firing on crowds who took to the streets after prayers. Protesters “did not have weapons,” one rebel officer tells the New York Times, adding that Gadhafi’s forces “shot people outside the mosque.”

Reports say several were killed, but residents tell stories of bodies being removed from the morgue in order to conceal casualties, and bodies being burned on beaches. A researcher with Human Rights Watch says there are reports that top hospital officials are pro-Gadhafi and are understating the death toll. Meanwhile, refugees thronged Tripoli airport in an attempt to flee the country, as at least two guards beat some of them back with a billy club and a whip. The crackdown comes even as some close to Gadhafi are defecting: Libya’s ambassador to the UN, and Gadhafi’s longtime friend, denounced him yesterday, and one of his top security officials, also a cousin, deserted him Wednesday. Click for the latest on Libya.