Anti-Gadhafi Forces Control Eastern Libya

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi is encouraging his supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime. Eastern Libya is considered "liberated" territory and is under the control of anti-Gadhafi forces.

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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.

In Libya, a defiant Moammar Gadhafi is vowing to fight to the end and hunt down protesters, as he put it, house to house. Gadhafi delivered a fist-shaking speech in the capital of Tripoli yesterday, where he called protesters cockroaches and rats. As he spoke, gunmen loyal to the Libyan leader fired at anyone found on the streets of the city.

Leaders from around the world are condemning the crackdown in Libya, where an estimated 300 people have been killed over the past week. And the country is now split, with its eastern part apparently largely controlled by anti-Gadhafi forces.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in eastern Libya and joins us now.

Good morning.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What have you been seeing since you've arrived?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am now in the eastern Libyan town of Beida(ph), which is one of the place which where this revolution started. And I can tell you, there is an extraordinary scene taking place right in front of me. Hundreds of Libyans from all classes and castes have converged on the People's Revolutionary Council building, which they have taken over, and they say they are now trying to form their own government. Among them is the ex-justice minister of the Gadhafi regime, who resigned several days ago. They are asking him to lead this nascent government, as they try and regain some semblance of control over the eastern part of the country.

They say they will no longer be under Gadhafi's hands, and they want to press this movement all the way to Tripoli.

So I have with me Abdul Hamid Kanfur(ph), who is a professor at the university.

Mr. Kanfur, what do you want the world to know? This is the first time you've been able to speak to people.

Professor ABDUL HAMID KANFUR: I would like the world to know that this revolution is a revolution of a very, very, very young people who will change the one of the most strongest and criminal regime in the world. And it's only a few hours, only a few days to end this stupid regime.

Moammar Gadhafi used all kinds of weapons against the civilians, against women and children, as you can see in the TV last night. He kill everyone. And this is the time of justice now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A message of defiance from this part of the country. They absolutely heard Moammar Gadhafi's message last night, but they are defiant. They say theirs is the just government.

MONTAGNE: Lulu, tell us about military officers defecting to the side of the protesters. Have you talked to any of the, you know, ground troops there?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it seems I have to tell, in the eastern part of the Libya, as if not only the military officers have defected, but everyone. The justice minister is at this meeting that I'm at at the moment. There are lawyers, there are architects, there are members of universities, there are young people. Everyone seems, they say, to be united in their fervor against Gadhafi. And one of the things that has been striking as we've been travelling through the country is seeing so many of the looted weapons out on the streets of eastern Libya.

We've seen tanks, we've seen anti-aircraft guns on the streets. They've been taken over by the anti-government protesters to defend their areas, they say, from attack by pro-Gadhafi forces.

MONTAGNE: And Lulu, at this meeting that you were at, describe the scene for us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I have to tell you, we walked in, we were let(ph) into the People's Revolutionary Council building. It's a large white rotunda and it was packed full of people, and we were the first Western press they've ever seen, and they gave us a standing ovation as we came in. Everyone wanted to speak to us, everyone wanted to have their voices heard. They said they've been living under 42 years of silence and they now want the world to know what is happening in Libya. And more than anything, really the message was, we want the international community to know that we are a member of the international community, that we want to become part of the global community. We are not against America, we are not against Europe. We want to become part of the democratic sovereign nations of the world.

MONTAGNE: There has been some talk that Libya might break up and be much more chaotic than any of these other countries. It sounds like maybe there's a little sense of unity there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to tell you, in eastern Libya, where I am now, in the town of Beida, that's exactly what we're seeing. We're seeing a nascent government forming, they say, and they want to make it very clear that they do not want to break up the country. They are patriotic Libyans who want to simply get out from under the yoke of Moammar Gadhafi.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who is in eastern Libya this morning.

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