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People in Libya's Benghazi hand back weapons: residents

People in Benghazi said on Wednesday they now felt safe enough to start handing in weapons recovered after security forces lost control of the eastern Libyan city.
/ Source: Reuters

People in Benghazi said on Wednesday they now felt safe enough to start handing in weapons recovered after security forces lost control of the eastern Libyan city.

Residents said arms were being collected by the organizers of a revolt that has seen the city pass into the hands of protesters opposed to Muammar Gaddafi after soldiers switched sides, ending a crackdown there in which scores were killed.

Much of eastern Libya is now in the hands of anti-Gaddafi protesters, people in the region say.

"All the weapons the youth took are being returned to the headquarters of the Supreme Court and the neighboring Prosecutions Complex, as well as some camps, where the revolution was organized," said Ali, an 18-year-old student.

Like others, he was speaking to Reuters from Benghazi by telephone.

"The city's situation is stable ever since there was seizure of the battalions and the city came under the control of the people and the youth, who are organizing the traffic, along with police," said Ali, who declined to give his last name.

A defiant Gaddafi said on Tuesday he was ready to die "a martyr" in Libya and urged his supporters to take to the streets on Wednesday to crush the uprising.

"Citizens are now starting to collect weaponry from the street and are returning them because now they feel secure and there is no need for them as was the case during the shootings," Ahmed El-Rayet told Reuters from Benghazi.

Ali said the return of weapons had begun on Monday. Residents said it was not in response to Gaddafi's speech the following day.

"The return of the weapons happened even before Gaddafi gave his speech, the reason is purely because of the seizure of battalions and returns of weaponry occurred since Monday night," Ali said.

"And in any case, no one from the people of Benghazi gives much care or interest to what Gaddafi says especially after yesterday's speech, he says one thing and does another."

Soldiers in the east said Gaddafi's writ no longer ruled in the area. In Benghazi, they had switched their allegiance to the protesters, tipping the balance in the struggle for control of the city.

El-Rayet, who said he was an assistant director who works in the United Arab Emirates, said: "I came for a visit to Benghazi last Monday to see family but I didn't know things would escalate and therefore decided to stay to make sure my family and the city were safe."

"Since Monday, Benghazi is calm, clean, safe ... People are working together and yesterday traffic police went down to control the traffic ... I hope things remain calm."

"Now, I decided to travel back to UAE, maybe in a couple of hours, I am not traveling by airplane because there is no airline from Benghazi but I'll cross the border to Egypt by car and take a plane from Cairo."

Somayah, a housewife in Benghazi, said: "The city is fine now after a group of lawyers and doctors, as well as youth volunteers, formed public committees and are keeping things in order."

"The youth and the people were distributing publications to people in the streets or placing them on cars to return weapons. Mosques also called on people to return weapons," she said.