In Libya, Radio Tobruk Issues Rallying Cry

Radio Free Tobruk's motto is Freedom or Death. Until two weeks ago, it was a mouthpiece of the Gadhafi regime. After their own station was burnt down, the staff regrouped, rescued most of their equipment and now broadcast round-the-clock calls for freedom. It's become a focal point of the revolution in the eastern city.

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It seems Gadhafi's world is starting to crumble around him, as long-time loyalists and diplomats are defecting to the opposition. Much of the military is joining up as well. And many radio stations, like the one in Tobruk in eastern Libya, have started to broadcast messages of resistance.

NPR's Jason Beaubien went to check it out.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Free Tobruk Radio is now broadcasting from the base of its own transmitter on a windswept mountain overlooking the city of Tobruk. Its old studios were torched by Gadhafi's forces after the formerly state-run station announced its support for the revolution.

The staff escaped with a few microphones, a mixing board and some computers. They seized the broadcast tower and got back on the air. Now, men in leather jacket swinging AK-47s guard their makeshift studio on the mountaintop.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: Free Tobruk Radio plays songs written and recorded over the last week by local artists. The music is all about the revolution.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: This song, about the anti-Gadhafi protests that started February 15th, says: How many nights have we stayed up without sleep? We will stay here in the streets until our pains are gone.

The station's new slogan is Freedom or Death. The talk shows are also focused almost entirely on the uprising. Members of the military announced on the station that they were switching sides, and the army, at least in this region, is backing the demonstrators.

Station manager Khalid Shatta Rahskala(ph) says just before the huge protests started, and the station defected, he'd been ordered by Tripoli to stop all discussions on the air of political, religious and social issues. Rahskala says under Gadhafi, the press was tightly controlled.

Mr. KHALID SHATTA RAHSKALA (Station Manager, Free Tobruk Radio): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: At local radio stations all over Libya, Rahskala says if you went against the government or even thought about doing anything wrong, you would be prosecuted by the regime. He says in every station, there were one or two people who informed for the dreaded Department of Interior Security. Everyone knew that they had to be very careful what they said.

Mr. MOHAMMED SALAM GHARIB(PH): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: In the middle of the day today, Mohammed Salam Gharib was on the air, talking about solidarity among the protesters and thanking them for the calm in Tobruk. Behind him was a large red, black and green flag. This flag was used in the time of the monarchy before Gadhafi came to power, and now it's the new symbol of the Libyan revolution.

Free Tobruk Radio is on the air 24 hours a day. No one is getting paid. Additional volunteers have joined the station as reporters. Sala Fuwad(ph) is a petroleum engineer at the local refinery, but the 52-year-old has started writing news reports for the station about the anti-Gadhafi protests.

Mr. SALA FUWAD: Now we need only freedom, not for us. I'm an old man, okay? But we need a new life, a new air, you know? And we need good life for our children.

BEAUBIEN: Fuwad lived almost his entire life in a Libya ruled by Moammar Gadhafi. He beams with excitement as he talks about the prospect of handing his children a very different country, where the press and the people don't live in fear of the government.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tobruk, Libya.

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