Up to 10 000 Libyans poured onto the streets of Benghazi on Friday, demanding that Muammar Gaddafi quit and praying for victory in a bloody uprising inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
Rebel-held Benghazi, Libya’s second city and a Mediterranean sea port, is the headquarters of the eastern revolt against the Libyan leader, and thousands gather to protest each Friday after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
“Many people have died in our struggle in Ras Lanuf and in Benghazi, but the youth has chosen to fight on rather than see this rule continue, and they will fight for the sake of God,” a blind imam proclaimed ahead of prayers.
“Victory is near,” he declared, as vast crowds descended on Benghazi’s seafront to pray together in the open air for the success of their revolution.
There was a carnival atmosphere as the centre filled with up to 10 000 people, many of them waving flags. Pick-up trucks manned with heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery policed street corners.
A French flag was hung next to a Libyan flag with a banner reading “Thank you France” in reference to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to recognise the rebels’ council as Libya’s rightful representative.
Much of the sermon was dedicated to the need for patience in the face of the heavy onslaught from Gaddafi’s forces, who launched an air strike against rebels on Friday, amid a heavy weapons duel outside the oil town of Ras Lanuf.
‘We rely on God’
Even before a fighter jet dropped a bomb on a rebel checkpoint 10km east of the front-line town, an AFP reporter saw the bodies of at least five dead rebels being ferried back from the fighting.
“I am blind, but I see you with my hearts. I swear this is not emotional talk, victory is coming. Be patient. Be steadfast and fight,” said the cleric.
“We rely on God, not America, not the United Nations, not France. God will hold them [Gaddafi and his regime] accountable.”
As the imam implored God to help their brothers across Libya, mourners lifted their palms to the heavens and sobbed, some of them shaking.
Many fighters come from Benghazi, where one family burying their son said he was killed by a bombardment from a commandeered oil tanker crewed by mercenaries which they claimed Gaddafi forces have used off Ras Lanuf.
His face was completely destroyed by the blast that killed him.
“My nephew did not die in vain. We still have to fight Gaddafi,” said his 52-year-old uncle, Khaled Mohammed Saad. “He was very courageous in the last few days, but all his friends want revenge, they want to bring Gaddafi down.” — AFP