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ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - A Libyan student who saw his friends killed in protests against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi in the town of Al Bayda said on Tuesday that mercenaries from Africa had killed dozens on the Libyan leader's orders.
Gaddafi used tanks, helicopters and warplanes to fight a growing revolt, witnesses said on Tuesday, as the veteran leader scoffed at reports he was fleeing after four decades in power. Rebel soldiers said the east of Libya had broken free from the leader's control.
Saddam, a 21-year-old student who declined to give his full name, told Reuters that mercenaries from Chad, Tunisia and Morocco had opened fire on protesters.
In remarks that could not be independently corroborated, Saddam, a student at Omar Mokhtar University in Al Bayda, eastern Libya, said:
"The revolution started on the 16th of February when seven youths went out chanting against corruption before they were joined by others. The numbers swelled to 300 and we chanted 'Peaceful, peaceful' and 'Down, down with the corrupt regime.'
"Police fired tear gas at us an hour into the protest but we continued to chant, so the police opened fire at us. My friend Khaled was the first martyr to fall and seven others died with him. There was one person, Mohamed, who was speaking to the crowd and he has disappeared. We still don't know where he is."
Saddam was speaking to Reuters in Alexandria after crossing from Libya into Egypt.
"The next day, we were shocked to see mercenaries from Chad, Tunisia, Morocco speaking French attacking us," he said.
"On the 18th, the mercenaries killed about 40 men from the city of Shahat, next to Al Bayda. The number of dead in Al Bayda and Shahat in two days was 150."
Saddam said the mercenaries had been hiding in army camps. "The army was pushing us in their direction but wasn't firing at us. One of the town leaders spoke over the loudspeakers calling on the army to remember that we are of the same blood.
"Many of the soldiers starting leaving the camp, but the mercenaries fought with the army men trying to leave."
Saddam said the students had fought with the mercenaries.
"We captured some of the mercenaries and they said they were given orders by Gaddafi to eliminate the protesters," he said.
"We are running out of food and medicine, as well as ammunition to fight the mercenaries and that puts us in constant danger. I call on all Libyans in Western cities to help us as soon as possible."
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed; Writing by Peter Millership; editing by Mark Trevelyan