Gadhafi's Shrinking World

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to cling to power in Tripoli, but outside the capital, refugees continue to flee, and opposition forces claim to be in control of large swathes of the country. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's Jason Beaubien, who is traveling along the Libyan border near the city of Tobruk.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi clings to power even as his world continues to shrink around him. The capital, Tripoli, remains in hands; its citizens essentially on lockdown. But more and more parts of the country are now controlled by opposition forces.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed an arms embargo and backed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and close associates. As we speak, large numbers of foreigners and Libyan citizens are steadily streaming towards the border.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Jason, what are you seeing?

JASON BEAUBIEN: Well, it's very calm here in Tobruk right now. We came across the Egyptian-Libyan border yesterday. The Libyan side is completely abandoned by government officials. Even the flag that flies over the customs house has been switched to the red, black and green flag, which has become the symbol of the revolution. Instead of Gadhafi's green flag theyve hoisted up the red, black and green flag that the protesters are using in the streets.

And here in Tobruk itself, the government is just absent, completely absent. All the government office buildings, including the courthouse, the police station, theyve either been burned down or they're just shut. Schools are closed. Most businesses are also shut, but some of the shops with food are still open.

From where Im sitting right now, however, you can see that the refinery, the oil refinery is still operating. And this morning, we watched this massive tanker pull in, dock at the port. We're getting word that it is loading up right at the moment with oil. So the refinery is operating absolutely normally; this great source of revenue for Libya, and obviously for this city, as well.

HANSEN: The United States has shut down the embassy in Tripoli. It says it's evacuated all the staff from Libya. Do you know whats going on with the evacuation of nationalists of other countries?

BEAUBIEN: Well, a lot of the Western Europeans have been able to get all of their people out. You know, the U.S. even said that it was suspending this operation for now - that they were basically done with it. Other people, however - people who are mainly migrant workers, people who come in here and have been working at the low-wage dock jobs - they are still trying to get out.

As we were coming across the border from Egypt, there were hundreds of people camped out in the actual departure's lounge. There are all these Bangladeshis who had come in trucks, in open-air trucks, to flee out of Benghazi. They had these horrific descriptions of what was happening. They were terrified and they were sort of trapped there.

I talked to one of them, M.D. Johnny, and he said that he just wants to go back to Bangladesh, that his life is more important than actually earning money in Libya.

Mr. M.D. JOHNNY: Oh, it's so dangerous and so difficult. (Through Translator) It was so dangerous, so difficult. Sometimes some were shooting and bombing. Simple people have guns, have bombs, and they haven't any protection, haven't any law, haven't any things. So it's so difficult, you know.

BEAUBIEN: So these people were very frightened. And some of the other nations, China, for instance, was bussing its people out. But the Bangladeshis were all sort of the stuck there at the border crossing. And the United Nations' High Commissioner of Refugees says they're very worried about this situation. There were some representatives who were coming into Libya that we met at the border. They said they are getting reports that foreigners are being attacked inside Libya.

Ms. AMIRA AZZAM(ph) (Assistant Protection Officer): Apparently some of them have been attacked. They were accused of being mercenaries. So we are extremely concerned about the situation there. I mean, and as you can see, people are coming out every hour.

BEAUBIEN: Thats Amira Azzam. She's an assistant protection officer. And she was actually leading a group of people from the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees who were coming in to do an assessment of what the situation is inside Libya.

HANSEN: Jason, is it possible to tell where things go from here?

BEAUBIEN: It seems like it's entirely in Moammar Gadhafi's hands at this point. At least in Tobruk, the sense it's just a matter of when is he going to go, not at all a question of whether he's going to go. And he has not set up any great transition to hand power over to someone else. And even in some of the defiant speeches that he's given recently, he's made it clear that he would rather die a martyr than give up power.

So it appears, and certainly the sense is here in east of the country, that everyone is just waiting for when Moammar Gadhafi is finally is either going to get killed or leave voluntarily.

HANSEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Tobruk in eastern Libya. Thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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