France sending aid to east Libya

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A Libyan boy sits on the barrel of a destroyed army tank as he and other youths celebrate the freedom of the city of Benghazi (AP)

The West has sent its first real aid to Libyan rebels hoping to support their bid to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

But the dictator remained entrenched in the capital Tripoli, where his forces squashed an attempt to hold street protests.

France sent two planes with humanitarian aid to opposition stronghold Benghazi with doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment.

“It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories,” said Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

He said he was studying “all solutions” – including military options – so that “Gaddafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power

The two sides in Libya’s crisis appeared at stalemate and the direction the uprising takes next could depend on which can hold out longest.

Gaddafi’s opponents, including mutinous army units, hold nearly the entire eastern half of the country, much of the oil infrastructure and some cities in the West. Gaddafi is dug in in Tripoli and nearby cities, backed by security forces and militiamen who are generally better armed than the military.

In the two opposition-held cities closest to Tripoli – Zawiya and Misrata – rebel forces were locked in stand-offs with Gaddafi loyalists.

In the capital, several hundred protesters started a march in the eastern district of Tajoura, which has been the scene of frequent clashes. After the burial of a person killed in gunfire last week, mourners began to march down a main street, chanting against the Libyan leader and waving the flag of Libya’s pre-Gaddafi monarchy, which has become a symbol of the uprising.

But they quickly dispersed once a brigade of pro-Gaddafi fighters rushed to the scene, scattering before the gunmen could fire a shot.

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