Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi drove through his nation’s capital in a motorcade, drawing a cheering crowd as the long-time ruler tried to rally support amid reports of widening anti-government protests.
Protests have erupted in several cities in Libya this week, especially in the east, and the US-based Human Rights Watch said Friday that 24 people were killed in unrest on Wednesday and Thursday.
Gaddafi’s open-roofed car slowly made its way through the streets of the capital Tripoli late Thursday. In footage broadcast by Libyan TV, the motorcade was thronged by cheering supporters. Some pushed toward the car to try to reach Gaddafi and shake hands. “We do not want any other leader but Gaddafi!” one woman shouted.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, hundreds of protesters camped out Friday in the center of the city. Calls to join funeral processions for those killed in clashes with pro-government forces spread on Facebook and websites.
One of the protesters, Nizar Jebail, owner of an advertising company, said he spent the night in front of the city’s court building. He said he wants not just reforms, “but freedom and equality.”
The wave of protests that has swept across West Asia has brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gaddafi who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.
The move to restore Gaddafi’s image came as the Libyan opposition said police in some cities had gone over to the protesters.