TRIPOLI, March 18 (Reuters) - Libyan authorities prevented foreign journalists from reporting freely in the capital Tripoli on Friday ahead of anticipated protests against Muammar Gaddafi.
Emboldened by a U.N. resolution authorising a “no-fly” zone and military attacks on Gaddafi’s forces, Libyan opposition supporters in the capital said they would gather later in the day to call for the end of the Libyan leader’s rule.
“Today there will be protests in Tripoli. Everyone is waiting for the UN forces to arrive. They feel stronger,” said Mohamed, a Libyan living in exile abroad who spoke to his colleagues and friends in Tripoli on Friday.
“The mood is strong ... It will be after Friday prayers. They are preparing now. We think it will be a big one.”
Journalists invited to Tripoli by the Libyan government last month were prevented from leaving their government-designated hotel in the centre of the capital on Friday.
Several reporters who tried to leave the hotel were stopped and told it was unsafe to go outside.
Social networking websites such as Twitter were flooded with reports overnight of clashes between protesters and Gaddafi militiamen in several districts of the capital. They also said protests would take place in Tripoli on Friday.
Sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout the night but reports could not be verified independently because opposition activists were not responding to telephone calls and foreign journalists could not report from those areas.
Tripoli’s working class districts such as Tajoura have been a focus of anti-Gaddafi protests in previous weeks. Young people and worshippers usually gather outside mosques after Friday prayers to express their discontent with the authorities.
Demonstrations have gradually fizzled out in Tripoli since the start of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion a month ago, but the U.N. Security Council a resolution, passed overnight, appeared to have stirred emotions on both sides.
Shortly after the UN vote, a mob of angry Gaddafi supporters stormed into a late-night news conference by a foreign ministry official at the hotel, shouting slogans and waving flags. Some climbed on a dais and chanted pro-Gaddafi songs. (Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Giles Elgood)