Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi turned Tripoli into a mass celebration of his long rule but residents in one of its most restive neighbourhoods pledged to press on with their campaign to oust him.
The capital woke to the sounds of heavy machine gunfire on Sunday in what the government said was a celebration of its victory over anti-Gaddafi rebels in key cities across Libya.
At daybreak, thousands of Gaddafi supporters poured into the streets waving flags and firing assault rifles into the air, Reuters reports.
In the working class Tajoura neighbourhood, flashpoint of anti-Gaddafi sentiment in the capital, people looked terrified as vans loaded with Gaddafi supporters sped past shouting “God, Muammar, Libya, nothing more”.
Yet, they said their push for change was undeterred after they heard rebels had refuted government claims of victory in key cities such as Zawiyah and Benghazi.
“He (Gaddafi) will be finished in a couple of weeks,” said a shopkeeper, Fauzzi. He pointed at eight bullet marks on the front gate of his house which he said were fired by pro-Gaddafi militiamen several days ago during a crackdown on a protest.
“I don’t know what they are celebrating. It’s terrifying.”
The contrast between Tajoura and central Tripoli underlined tensions in an increasingly divided city as the popular uprising against Gaddafi’s four decade rule escalated into open warfare in other parts of the North African country.
The neighbourhood was awash with rumours, and residents said the first shooting before dawn sounded more like fighting. The government denied any fighting took place in Tripoli on Sunday.
“What’s happening today is a cover up. We don’t know what to believe any more,” said one man, Ibrahim. “We need help.”
Two days ago, shooting rang out across the neighbourhood as forces loyal to Gaddafi broke up a crowd of protesters shouting “Gaddafi is the enemy of God” outside its central mosque.
The government denies using deliberate force against civilians and says the unrest in Libya is part of an al Qaeda plot to oust Gaddafi and set up a Taliban-style dictatorship.
A building opposite the mosque stood torched and children presented visiting reporters with handfuls of spent shells from assault rifles they picked up after the clashes. Billboards previously adorned with Gaddafi’s images were torn apart.
Some however said Gaddafi’s ability to draw massive crowds in his support in Tripoli has convinced many to keep a low profile for now ahead of another rally planned for this week.
“People are scared. Police are shooting everywhere. They want us to be scared,” said Omar, as he looked around anxiously.
Another man, who gave his name only as Ibrahim, said: “They have arrested a lot of people. They beat them. When they release them, they make them confess and sign a document saying they are sorry for their crimes.”
A short drive from Tajoura along a dusty coastal road, central Tripoli was a wild cacophony of honking cars and blaring music. The crowd in Green Square swelled as groups of supporters arrived, led by men in fatigues.
“Gaddafi cannot be beaten,” said Salah Bilkhail, an engineer. “Al Qaeda and America have been plotting to take Libya’s oil. They will never succeed.”