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2011-02-28

Libyans in "Liberated" Eastern Cities Balance Self-Government with Supporting Tripoli Resistance: Anjali Kamat Reports

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As anti-government rebels close in on the Libyan capital city of Tripoli, we get the latest from Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat. She has just returned to Egypt after spending five days in eastern Libya, where popular uprisings have liberated the area from pro-Gaddafi forces. “There’s a sense that Gaddafi can do anything to people [in Tripoli], and there’s a real sense of fear,” Kamat says, “but I think people are also trying to see what they can do to manage their city and to also support their friends and families in Tripoli, who continue to be under siege.” [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the uprising continues in Libya, more areas have fallen into the hands of pro-democracy protesters, but Colonel Muammar Gaddafi retains control of the capital Tripoli. On Sunday, protesters had taken control of Zawiyah, a city 30 miles from Tripoli, but pro-Gaddafi forces are surrounding the area.

On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes on Gaddafi and his family. The U.N. resolution also called for referring Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

In a telephone conversation with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, President Barack Obama said Gaddafi should leave.

AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE: Resolution 1970 is a strong resolution. It includes a travel ban and an assets freeze for key Libyan leaders. It imposes a complete arms embargo on Libya. It takes new steps against the use of mercenaries by the Libyan government to attack its own people. And for the first time ever, the Security Council has unanimously referred an egregious human rights situation to the International Criminal Court. As President Obama said today, when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass of violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In an interview with Serbian television Sunday, a defiant Gaddafi repeated his message that he will stay in Libya. Speaking via telephone from his Tripoli office, he again blamed foreigners and al-Qaeda for the uprising that’s threatening his 41-year rule. He also condemned the United Nations Security Council for imposing sanctions on him and launching a war crimes inquiry.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting key European allies in Geneva to formulate a coordinated response to the situation in Libya. Some officials estimate about 2,000 people have been killed since the uprising began on February 15th.

To get an update on the events in Libya, we’re joined now by Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat. She’s in Cairo. She just came over the border from Libya. We’ll also be speaking with Human Rights Watch North Africa and Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, who is in Tunis right now, was at the Tunisia-Libya border.

Anjali, tell us about the trip you’ve taken over the last few days, who you spoke to. What is the situation?

ANJALI KAMAT: Hi, Amy. It’s great to be with you, great to be back on the internet. I spent five days in Libya’s liberated eastern zone. The main cities there are Bayda, Darnah, Tobruk and, of course, Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, which is now — this was the city where the protests began in February, and this is the city where the new face of the future Libya is taking shape. I met a number of people.

I’ll talk a little bit about Benghazi, because it’s really the seat of where a lot of important political developments are taking place. Ten days ago, Benghazi was the site of incredibly brutal violence. Human Rights Watch estimates that 237 people were killed. Several people we spoke to had witnessed very, very brutal street battles with mercenaries and members of Gaddafi’s battalions attacking protesters armed with just rocks and stones to defend themselves.

Today, the city is transformed, and everywhere there’s graffiti asking people to take care of their city and to try and build a new Libya. Residents have taken complete charge of the city for the first time in 42 years. People are in a state of shock that they have complete control of their lives, they’re in complete control of everything in their city, and Gaddafi’s forces are nowhere to be seen.

We spoke to a number of people in the city who are members of the — what they’re called, the Coalition of the February 17th Revolution, as the revolution began, was called for to begin on February 17th. In Benghazi, incidentally, it began on February 15th. The coalition is made up of a motley crew of people. It’s professionals, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, university professors, workers, a lot of students, a lot of young people who took to the streets, many of whom were killed him. The day I arrived in Benghazi — it was Friday — there was a very large demonstration taking place in the center of the city.

And the revolution’s headquarters are in two buildings: the former High Court of Benghazi and a district court, two buildings right next door to each other, which are right on the Mediterranean. One building, the former High Court, is now the sort of media hub of the revolution. This is where there’s people are trying to set up a satellite internet connection to get videos out to people around the world. Of course it’s been very difficult to break through the Gaddafi’s internet blackout. But this is also where people have taken control of state media. So the state radio station is now taken over by revolutionaries. It’s called "Libya Alhora," "Free Libya," and it broadcasts 24 hours a day across eastern Libya. There’s also a new newspaper that’s coming out every day, called Libya Alhora, Free Libya. I have a copy right here. And it’s incredible to see, you know, people, both journalists, media professionals in the city, as well as just ordinary citizens, coming in and giving, devoting so much time to trying to counter the state media and the false image being pushed forward by Gaddafi and his son about who the protesters are. We’ve heard in Gaddafi’s speeches and in his son Saif al-Islam’s speeches, the protesters are foreign elements, they’re linked to al-Qaeda. He’s called the protesters "rats." I mean, people are very keen on trying to counter this image of themselves.

The day I arrived, the coalition had just appointed a city council to manage the day-to-day functioning of the city. Banks had just opened. You know, there’s young people everywhere in the streets trying to direct traffic. There’s been no reports of looting or damaging property. People are very proud of this. You know, they’re trying to move on. They’re not people who are used to governing their city. They’ve never had experience doing this, so they’re starting from scratch. There’s a real sense of excitement, also a sense of nervousness.

You know, people — I listened to a press conference given by the Council of the Revolution, and the main spokesperson made it very clear that, you know, while they were calling for a no-fly zone — this is the number one demand in terms of what the international community can do — they’re very opposed to any other form of foreign military intervention. They do want targeted sanctions, which have already begun. But they also do want a no-fly zone.

And people are very nervous about what’s happening in Tripoli. And on the one hand, you know, if you look at a map of Libya, you see that really Gaddafi’s forces — it’s almost like a noose around Tripoli. Tripoli and Surt are really the only two places that are still in complete control — Gaddafi still has complete control over. The rest of the country is increasingly under rebel forces, rebel command. So, on one hand, that’s very encouraging for people that we spoke to in Benghazi, but, you know, of course people are still nervous. They’re worried that there might be a counterattack. And there’s a sense that Gaddafi can do anything to people, and there’s a real sense of fear, but I think people are also trying to see what they can do to manage their city and to also support their friends and families in Tripoli, who are now — continue to be under siege.

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