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In Libya's West, Gadhafi Reasserts Control

Supporters of Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi protest outside U.N. offices in Tripoli on Saturday.
Mahmud Turkia
AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi protest outside U.N. offices in Tripoli on Saturday.

Rebels in Libya continue to battle government forces around the Mediterranean oil port of Brega. Much of the eastern part of the country is under rebel control, but in most of western Libya, Moammar Gadhafi has the upper hand.

For weeks after the uprising began, protesters in Tripoli used Friday, the Muslim holy day, as a cover for their anti-Gadhafi rallies. Groups of men would head to pray at their local mosque and then take to the streets in defiance of the Libyan leader.

Not anymore. Last Friday, the only clusters of people were around gas stations where there were extremely long lines of cars waiting to fill up their tanks. So, the question arises: Where is the western rebellion?


Protests Fade

At one of the few shops that was open, one man said the protests are over for now. Everyone is afraid, he said, and everyone stays at home.

A government minder sent to monitor journalists entered the shop, and the interview abruptly ended. It's indicative of what people say has happened in the capital and in former rebel-held towns like Zawiya: Throughout the west, Ghadafi is reasserting his control.

The only way to talk to people freely is by phone, but the cell phones of many of the protest leaders no longer work.

NPR is protecting one Tripoli resident's identity for his own safety. He lives near the neighborhood of Tajoura, one of the former hotbeds of dissent in the capital.


He said thousands of people have been arrested in the past few weeks, and no one knows where they are.

"We're talking about 2[000] to 3,000 people ... arrested. They're picked up first thing in the morning," he said. "We don't know if they're still alive or dead."

When asked if people are still meeting in houses to talk about the protests, he says, "They can't talk about it now because as soon as they say something, straightaway you get picked up."

Rebel Holdouts

Small pockets of resistance remain. There are reports that the town of Zintan, 100 miles from the capital, was shelled by government forces Sunday. Nalut, a town near the border with Tunisia, also reportedly remains in rebel hands.

But the only sizable area still out of government control in the west is the city of Misurata — and it's a battle zone.

A YouTube video posted Sunday shows a rocket-propelled grenade being fired at a Gadhafi vehicle. Street battles are common in town as the rebels and Gadhafi loyalists face off in residential neighborhoods.

It was hard to leave home, said one Misurata resident, because there are many snipers on the roofs of the buildings. He said at least two civilians are killed every day, and the rebels will keep fighting even though the situation is incredibly difficult. His information couldn't be verified because journalists have not been allowed free access to the besieged city.

The only access to the rebel-held part of Misurata is the seaport; even that is dangerous. A Turkish vessel docked Sunday to evacuate the wounded and families, but so many people mobbed the ship that it had to depart earlier than scheduled. Those it left behind face shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies.

Despite talk of a cease-fire by Gadhafi, all evidence points to his desire to crush what's left of the rebellion in western Libya.

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