Moammar Gadhafi's Thugs Patrol Tripoli's Streets

Renee Montagne talks to a resident of Tripoli, who has witness the violent crackdown on protesters by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The businessman requests NPR not use his name out of fear for his safety.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

This morning, we're going to hear an eyewitness account of killings in Libya. This account comes from a man in the capital, Tripoli. Communication from that city is very limited as Moammar Gadhafi fights against a popular uprising.

MONTAGNE: The eyewitness we reached is a businessman who's been part of protests that began last Friday, the 17th. We're not saying his name because he fears for his safety. One of the first things he told us was that groups of what he called thugs are roaming the streets in and around Tripoli's main square, known as Green Square.

Unidentified Man: There's Libyan thugs who have, you know, have weapons. And there are mercenaries - I presume that they're like from African countries, cause mostly they're blacks.

MONTAGNE: And how many, approximately, are they? I mean are they filling the square and what are they doing?

Unidentified Man: There's like, maybe a thousand. You can't see these mercenaries at the moment but when the shooting begins these guys appear.

MONTAGNE: The mercenaries appear.

Unidentified Man: The mercenaries. Let me explain to you what happened, you know, the day that Saif spoke - which was, I think, two night ago, three nights ago?

MONTAGNE: Gadhafi's son, his heir-apparent.

Unidentified Man: Yeah. Yes. That night, there was a like a couple of hours when there wasnt a lot of security presence, and we tried to get into the Green Square. I had one person shot right next to me. Three feet from me, he was shot dead. Thats from a car, which this car just whizzed by, and stopped in front of the crowds and shot.

And then we made a few attempts. And eventually, right before Saif's speech, we ended up in the Green Square - like a lot more people came over from the east and the west, maybe like four or 5,000 demonstrators and we managed to get into the Green Square. We were there like for maybe, basically, just an hour.

The soldiers, they came back and they started shooting at us with the machine guns. And then these mercenaries, basically, were chasing everybody out through the streets and the side streets.

I personally had to help two wounded people, you know, which I didnt know cause I live so close to the Green Square. And these guys after they came from, maybe three, four miles away. And it was too late for them to go walk home alone - some of actually wounded. So I - you know, we have - we stayed the night at my place. And the next day, I took them home.

But basically we wanted to come out the next day, but these mercenaries are in the main streets and they keeping us from coming out to gather. They're staying in the main streets, and they're shooting at the side streets whoever tries to go out in the side streets.

MONTAGNE: So this, keeping people off the streets by basically shooting at anybody who's coming out

Unidentified Man: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: thats been going

Unidentified Man: Exactly. It's so surreal. It's so surreal. It's unbelievable.

MONTAGNE: Even in the midst of all of this, are protestors making plans to come out again to protest some more?

Unidentified Man: Well, yes. We did, we did, we did - for the next day, which was two days ago, but the siege intensified. There was all the people who come from areas from the eastern part of Tripoli is Tajura, but I think that theyve been seized, as well. And so, you know, we cannot gather a lot of momentum to overcome the pro-Gadhafi, you know, mercenaries.

But basically, as soon as we get any breathing space, we're getting out. We're going to come out.

MONTAGNE: May I ask how old you are? Have you had your entire life, has Gadhafi been running the country?

Unidentified Man: Yes, Im 44 years old.

MONTAGNE: And he's been there for about 42 years, since you were a baby.

Unidentified Man: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Listen, Im a businessman, as far as like, you know, economic problems or grievances, you know, Im doing pretty well. And this is not about, you know, like it's not about economic freedom. It's more about - this is political and democracy. We want freedom.

And listen, dont anybody tell you that this is about Islamists. There's no Islamists amongst our demonstrators.

MONTAGNE: When you think ahead a little bit, is there anyone do you see around you to lead the country?

Unidentified Man: Listen, I dont think thats going to be a really big problem. Anybody - anybody can do a better job than this guy. Anybody, even a monkey can do a better job than this guy.

MONTAGNE: Is there any way that you could imagine the outside world helping in this?

Unidentified Man: Yesterday, yesterday, people were saying - were talking about some sort of coalition, maybe like neighboring Arab countries - you know, like Tunisia and they're liberated - like really and Egypt and maybe, you know, a few European countries. You know, maybe have some sort of a coalition - if they just stop his barracks, I think it's all over.

If they just - I dont know how they can neutralize them, or whatever. You know, or basically this is it. He's just controlling it from his barracks at the moment. It's basically, it's like the Alamo. You know, right now, he's right now he's there. And I mean thats it.

MONTAGNE: You picture Gadhafi right now, in what amounts to the Alamo.

Unidentified Man: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: Well, which suggests you think you will prevail.

Unidentified Man: The only difference is that we don't have guns. You know, unless his people turn against him from the inside I think he can hang in there as long as it takes, because he's got all the money within and he has all the arms. And maybe hoping that with all the foreigners going out, I think, then, you know, they may be hoping that there won't be so much media attention. Maybe then he'll really crackdown. You know, I mean I don't know what he's going to use. I mean this guy's capable of using poisonous gas.

MONTAGNE: So you are fearful of some major I mean there have been talk of massacres, although it's very hard to tell exactly what that means in Libya now, because so few people are there to see...

Unidentified Man: I saw personally, in the Green Square, like I said, a few nights ago, I saw a lot of people down, a lot. I saw at least 200-300 people down. I mean some of them were moving, of course they weren't all dead, but I mean at least half of those people were down and they didn't stop with that. They were chasing everybody down the side streets and main streets and they were shooting at people, you know, after that. So I'm sure that there's other people who were down on the side streets as well.

MONTAGNE: So your fear is that sort of thing could start up again? And you say poison gas - he has poison gas?

Unidentified Man: Yeah, he's capable of using it.

MONTAGNE: What was it that brought you and others out into the streets?

Unidentified Man: We were inspired by Tunisia, and then after Egypt happened - it's just because, you know, these are two places where he would obviously get a lot of support, and probably use their forces to crush people who, you know, from either side of the border. So this has liberated us. We can smell freedom and liberation in the air, you know, once this happened. Now a lot of Tunisians and Egyptians are in Libya and we all followed those two revolutions, you know, closely.

When we called for the demonstrations and the protests on the 17th, I didn't think this was going to work on that particular day. But it obviously did start at Benghazi it technically didn't start. I mean we saw what happened to Benghazi, so that's what people want in Tripoli as well. I'll tell you, we have people from all walks of life. We have, you know, young and old and, you know, educated, not-educated, unemployed, everybody's out there.

And like, let me stress that again. There's no Islamists. I've hardly seen anybody with the protestors. We all want a united Libya. We don't want to divide Libya in the Emirates or whatever, you know, into the, you know, caliphates or whatever.

MONTAGNE: Is it possible, in your imagination, that Libya could break up?

Unidentified Man: Well, if he keeps holding Tripoli like this, you know, basically as a hostage, it could maybe temporarily break up for a while. Maybe as long as he keeps holding the forts, yeah, as long as he's alive and willing to, you know, be defiant in, you know, the way that he is.

MONTAGNE: So as you describe it, it could be a Gaddafi hold up, more or less, in Tripoli and the rest of the country not under his control.

Unidentified Man: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: Speaking with us from Tripoli, a Libyan business man who's been one of the protestors on the streets of the capital. We're not giving his name in order to protect him from possible reprisal.

INSKEEP: Another witness spoke with the Associated Press from Libya. This witness was west of the capitol, Tripoli, and he contends that an aid to Gaddafi came to that town and told protestors to leave or you will see a massacre. Protestors didn't leave. According to the witness, quote, "there is heavy gunfire. They bombed the mosque."

The witness goes on to say that protestors have raised a flag. It's an old Libyan flag, which the country flew before Gaddafi took power in 1969. Amid all of this, Gaddafi's son has gone on television and said everything is, quote, "normal."

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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