Militiamen fire on Libya protesters

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An anti-government protester celebrates on an armored vehicle in the east Libyan city of Albayda (AP)

Protesters demanding Muammar Gaddafi’s ousting came under a hail of bullets when pro-regime militiamen opened fire to stop the first significant anti-government marches in days in the Libyan capital.

The Libyan leader, speaking from the ramparts of a historic Tripoli fort, told supporters to prepare to defend the nation.

Witnesses reported multiple deaths from gunmen on rooftops and in the streets shooting at crowds with automatic weapons and even an anti-aircraft gun.

“It was really like we are dogs,” one man who was marching from Tripoli’s eastern Tajoura district said.

He added that many people were shot in the head, with seven people within 10 yards of him cut down in the first wave.

Also, troops loyal to Mr Gaddafi attacked a major air base east of Tripoli that had fallen into rebel hands.

A force of tanks attacked the Misrata Air Base, succeeding in retaking part of it in battles with residents and army units who had joined the anti-Gaddafi uprising, said a doctor and one resident wounded in the battle on the edge of opposition-held Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, about 120 miles from the capital.

The opposition captured two fighters, including a senior officer, and still held part of the large base, they said.

Shooting could still be heard from the area after midnight. The doctor said 22 people were killed in two days of fighting at the air base and an adjacent civilian airport.

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