Protesters Said To Control Parts Of Eastern Libya

It appears Libyan security forces are in control in Tripoli, one day after widespread reports of air raids against the protesters. But in eastern parts of the country, the demonstrators say they are in control and that security forces have disappeared from the streets.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're keeping a close watch on Libya this morning, and at this moment that country's long-time dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, is on state TV vowing to fight on against protesters demanding his ouster. Gadhafi said he would, as he put it, die as a martyr.

Colonel MOAMMAR GADHAFI (Libyan Leader): (Through translator) This is my country, the country of my great-grandfathers. We planted and we, you know, watered it with our grandfathers' blood. We deserve(ph) Libya.

MONTAGNE: More than 200 Libyans have reportedly died already protesting his regime. Security forces have responded to protests with deadly force. It appears today that Libyan security forces are in control in Tripoli - that's the capital a day after widespread reports of air raids against the protesters. But in the eastern parts of the country, the demonstrators say they are in control and that the security forces have disappeared from the street.

We're going to take you now to Libya's eastern border with Egypt. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has traveled from Cairo and reached that border with Libya.

And Lourdes, describe the scene for us there at the border.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what I can tell you right now is that there's a dust storm kicking up here in the desert. But we are seeing Egyptians crossing over this border in fairly large numbers, that are carrying all their possessions, stuffed into burlap sacks and hoisted on top of minivans and they are fleeing in quite large numbers. And we've been able to speak to quite a few of them about what's happening in the Eastern Libya. And basically what they've told me is that there is no presence of the police; there is no presence of the Libyan army, and that the protesters are in control of the streets of Eastern Libya - that is, (unintelligible) all the towns in eastern Libya.

And what we're hearing is that armed militias young men are basically now the security forces and they are checking people's identifications and they are keeping the peace and stopping people from looting.

They've also showed us some fairly gruesome video of what happened in the first few days of the protests, when they say Gadhafi's forces sent mercenaries from African nations out against them. And we saw quite a few difficult videos to watch of basically gangs of young men assaulting these people and then pictures of their mutilated bodies. So clearly quite a violent response to the violence that was perpetrated against them, they say.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, when you say foreign mercenaries, who would those be?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it's difficult to know. They say that these are mercenaries sent in from Sudan, from Chad. Some even allege that there were some Algerian forces in there. It was a question that we asked them, how do you know that these are foreigners, and they said we just knew by the color of their skin, by their accents. And I did see one particular video where they did manage to get a weapon from one of these men, and so clearly they were armed, at least some of them.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the city of Benghazi, where the protesters really seemed to have gotten control pretty fast. What are you hearing about conditions there?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Basically the same thing that I'm hearing about conditions in Bayda and Tobruk, that the pro-democracy forces have basically taken control of the city. There were tensions over the weekend. They seem to have subsided for now. But there are fears after reports of what happened about the crackdown in Tripoli, that if Moammar Gadhafi manages to rally his forces, they will then attack the eastern part of the country.

And also what we're hearing is that these pro-democracy forces are very well armed. They managed to wrest a lot of weapons away from the police. In some cases we also have heard reports from those fleeing that the army and police forces joined the pro-democracy forces. And what they're telling me is that they're calling this eastern part of the country Free Libya. They feel that they have control of the situation and that they have essentially wrested the eastern part of Libya away from Gadhafi's control.

MONTAGNE: We have all heard, of course, your coverage of protests in Egypt, the protest that ousted Hosni Mubarak. How would you compare that with the stories you are hearing from Libyans now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think they're very different types of stories. First of all, in the way that the Libyan government has tried to crush these protests brutality. And I can also tell you that in the response, these men are also armed, these pro-democracy forces are armed in Libya as well and they are fighting back. So clearly this is more of an armed confrontation. This isn't the kind peaceful demonstrations that we saw inside Egypt.

However, when I brought this up with some of the men that I've been speaking to, they said we had to defend ourselves. There was terrible violence being perpetrated against us. There was a massacre in some cities, and we needed to defend ourselves, and so we did.

MONTAGNE: Lourdes, thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reporting from Libya's eastern border with Egypt.

INSKEEP: And we'll be updating you on Libya throughout today's program whenever we get word of new developments.

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