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Residents of Benghazi exercise tight control over city

Angry Benghazi residents hold "mercenaries" and run city after trashing their barracks

Reuters , Thursday 24 Feb 2011
Benghazi
Protesters chant anti-government slogans in Benghazi city, Libya on Wednesday, (Reuters).
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Residents of Benghazi have jailed those they say are mercenaries and set up committees to run this eastern city now out of the control of leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has lost control of swathes of Libya.

A court compound in the centre of Benghazi, on the Mediterranean coast, has become a focal point for those seeking to reimpose law and order after a bloody rebellion against Gaddafi loyalists who relinquished the city to residents.

A Reuters correspondent was directed to see about a dozen people held in a court building who residents said were "mercenaries" backing Gaddafi, some were said to be African and others from southern Libya.

"They have been interrogated, and they are being kept safe, and they are fed well," said Imam Bugaighis, 50, a university lecturer now helping organise committees to run the city, adding that they would be tried according to the law, but the collapse of institutions of state meant the timing was not clear.

Angry residents of Benghazi have destroyed a compound used by the African mercenaries recruited by Muammar Gaddafi to fight the revolt in Benghazi.

The building where residents said the mercenaries' battalion was holed up stood in ruins with its shattered walls scrawled with graffiti condemning Gaddafi saying "Libya is Free" and "Down with Gaddafi".

Tractors and diggers had been used to destroy the building and one machine was still lodged in the wreckage. A nearby police station was charred nearby, riddled with bullet holes.

"Even if they bring all the mercenaries in the world we will stand here and fight in our country," said Aowath Hussein Sady, 45, standing in the compound. "The Libyan people are one".

Benghazi residents at the compound vowed to fight on.

"Many people attacked this base and the army used heavy, heavy guns ... Many people died," said Ahmed Sowesy, 40, a microbiologist, adding:
"All the people in this area hate Gaddafi and we are ready if he attacks again. We haven't guns but we are ready to die."

After a week of violence in which it threw off government control, this elegant Mediterranean port of about 700,000 is starting to run itself under "people's committees" as the dust of rebellion settles.

In the east of Libya, many soldiers have withdrawn from active service.

One police officer said it was now safe for him and his colleagues to be back on the streets. "We didn't go out before because people didn't want police on the streets. But we are with them and couldn't leave them," Mohamed Huweidy, 24, said.

In another eastern city, Tobruk, one resident said the clans will never back Gaddafi.

"With 1,000 people dead, none of the clans will go back to Gaddafi," said one man, who just gave his name as Breyek. "We don't know who will govern the country now but Libyans must act with one hand. No one should rule just the east or the west."

Benghazi was the first major city to fall after the uprising swept Libya last week. Many Libyan cities followed since then.

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