TRIPOLI, March 19 (Reuters) - Thousands of Libyans packed into Moammar Gadhafi's heavily fortified Tripoli compound on Saturday to form a human shield against possible air strikes by allied forces.
Fireworks erupted into the night sky and people fired defiant shots into the air at the compound after allied warplanes went into action in eastern Libya to stop the Libyan leader's forces attacking the rebel-held city of Benghazi.
Libyans from all walks of life streamed into the Bab Al-Aziziyah compound, shouting slogans and holding portraits of Gaddafi. Loudspeakers boomed songs praising the leader.
"My mother and father told me that they (Western warplanes) would attack the compound so I came here to protect our leader," said one 10-year-old boy, Mahmoud.
About 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) to the east, French fighter jets were destroying tanks and armoured vehicles to halt Gadhafi's advance on rebel forces around their stronghold of Benghazi.
The huge Tripoli complex, which includes military barracks, was the target of a 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan said it was in retaliation for what he called Libyan complicity in the bombing of a Berlin night club.
The government took foreign reporters to the normally closed site on a rare visit to showcase people's support for Gadhafi.
Inside the compound's high olive-green walls, people danced to a song setting an oft-repeated phrase from a recent Gadhafi speeches -- "house by house, alley by alley" -- to a melody.
Nearby, a man watched the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck equipped with an anti-aircraft gun.
An image of a hand crushing an F-16 fighter was superimposed on the window of a house gutted in the 1986 attack. Men with AK-47 rifles stood nearby. Soldiers looked on from watch towers.
Gadhafi's daughter Aisha paid an unexpected visit and stood on a vehicle as flag-waving supporters cheered her.
The gates of the compound, the heart of Gadhafi's powerful security apparatus which is usually off-limits to the general public, were wide open, and people continued to stream into it throughout the evening.
"We are here. We are ready to die for our leader," said Om Abdel Qadir, an Arabic language teacher. She said her six sons had all volunteered to fight for Gadhafi.
"Even if we do not have weapons, people will do everything they can to fight. You will see people on every street, pouring hot oil on the enemy." Mahmoud el-Mansouri, a farmer, said people were angry.
"There are 5,000 tribesmen who are preparing to come here to fight with our leader. They had better not try to attack our country," he said.
"We will open up Libya's deserts and allow Africans to flood to Europe to blow themselves up as suicide bombers. ... We are ready to attack embassies abroad." Mustafa Abdelgadir, a 27-year-old man, added: "Everyone has weapons training and we are all prepared to fight."
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