Rebel city chants "Gaddafi, go!" in show of strength

BENGHAZI, Libya Wed Jul 6, 2011 4:37pm EDT

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BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Libyans waving European and rebel flags marched through the rebel capital of Benghazi on Wednesday in a noisy bid to boost morale in an increasingly stale war against Muammar Gaddafi.

In a huge show of anti-Gaddafi sentiment in a chaotically run Mediterranean city of 700,000, over 100,000 rebel supporters spilled into the streets chanting "The people want the fall of the regime" and holding crudely drawn anti-Gaddafi caricatures.

The rally's spontaneous character contrasted sharply with Tripoli's stage-managed demonstrations organized by the state regularly in support of Gaddafi.

Most shops and cafes were closed in central Benghazi as people rushed through its dusty, meandering streets to join in. A helicopter, its shiny surface plastered with Libya's monarchy-era tricolor flag, hovered low above the crowd.

Some fired their AK-47 rifles into the air in jubilation. Others whistled wildly, holding giant flags above their heads.

Rebel soldiers watched out for any trouble from the back of their battered pickups equipped with Soviet-made machine guns.

"We want the world to see that Libya is against Gaddafi and that we want freedom," said Nuri Abbar, a 40-year-old former policeman.

"We want people in Tripoli who are forced to be silent to see this and do the same. Then we will win."

With fighting deadlocked on Libya's many fronts, some fear that ordinary people, concerned with growing prices and tough living conditions at a time of war, could lose patience and turn their anger against rebel authorities.

But none of that sentiment was visible at Wednesday's rally.

The crowd was orderly and peaceful as people marched through central avenues lined with Italian colonial era buildings.

"Bye-bye Gaddafi," shouted some of them. The demonstration went on late into the night, with cars adorned with rebel flags speeding around the city, and others shooting in the air -- a regular occurrence in a region awash with guns.

"We are demonstrating in response to Gaddafi's claims that there are no revolutionaries in Benghazi," said Ibrahim Ali Ahmed, a 20-year-old man from the port town of Ras Lanuf.

"I hope all of this will end soon. We will not lose patience. We can wait forever, for years, until Gaddafi goes."

(Writing by Maria Golovnina)

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