Rebels Move Closer To Libya's Capital Tripoli

Maria Colvin, a reporter with the Sunday Times in London, tells Steve Inskeep that right now things are relatively quiet in Tripoli. Libyan officials are now letting foreign journalists into the country.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

Rebels are moving closer to the capital of Libya. That's one place where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appears to remain in control, and it's where we're going next: Tripoli.

Reporter Marie Colvin is there. She's the foreign affairs correspondent for the Sunday Times of London.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. MARIE COLVIN (Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Times of London): Thank you.

INSKEEP: What have you seen as you've moved about Tripoli today?

Ms. COLVIN: We're really in the eye of the storm, here. It's quiet, to start with. I was down at Green Square, where you saw large crowds of Gadhafi supporters just days ago - in fact, when I arrived here, about four days ago. It's completely empty. The only crowds I saw around Tripoli this morning were crowds at the banks, which have been closed, but have just opened up. So there's crowds because people are only allowed to get 500 dinars per family.

There's crowds at bread shops. Libyans like to eat fresh bread, so they're all waiting to get that. The bakeries are open. Everything else is closed.

There's a sense of foreboding. But when I arrived here, I thought I'd be coming out of the airport to, you know, commandoes crawling through palm groves and being, you know, possibly dragged out of a taxi. That's not the situation in Tripoli itself today.

INSKEEP: What kind of plane was it that brought you into Tripoli? Was it a charter plane?

Ms. COLVIN: No, it's called Air Afrique. It's a Libyan, state-owned plane.

INSKEEP: And so they're still running, and they let you in the country, even though they've been frowning on foreign correspondents in Tripoli at this point.

Ms. COLVIN: Yes. I had an interview with Saif Islam Gadhafi. And he said they believed - the Gadhafi family - that the biggest mistake they had made was keeping foreign journalists out, because a lot of what was coming out was second-hand, some of it exaggerated. This is a brutal regime, so some of it's very true. They let a kind of handful of us in. We had no visas, but talked our way in.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that for a moment. You said you spoke with Gadhafi's son, the man who was believed to be in line to succeed him. The - let's just say it's been quite a remarkable impression of the Gadhafi family that's been conveyed by their televised speeches in recent days.

What was the circumstance under which you met him? Where did you go, and what was it like talking with him?

Ms. COLVIN: I met him at the prime minister's office, a very quiet, soft-spoken - I know what you mean about the impression being given by both Gadhafi - the father and Saif Gadhafi. They both looked mad, to be honest. But when I spoke to him - and this is someone who has a degree from London School of Economics. So that was - the television appearance was unusual.

He had a few things to say. I suppose the main one is that the family -which runs the regime, you know, rather like a Mafia family - will fight to the last.

INSKEEP: Do you have any sense, as you move about the city, as to whether the masses of people at large are with this government, or opposed to it in Tripoli itself?

Ms. COLVIN: I would say it's mixed. I've never heard such open criticism of Gadhafi. I've never heard, in all the years I've been coming here, such anger and openly expressed anger at the regime. In fact, one person in Tajurah, the neighborhood that I was in where two young men were killed, said to me: We believe we had legitimate demands for our rights. We would have talked about that, but now blood has spilled. There is no going back.

You would not have heard that in Libya, even a couple of weeks ago. So that anger is there. That opposition to Gadhafi is there.

There are also real supporters of his regime, which I've also encountered. Some of the demonstrations you see are completely manufactured by the government. Others are real.

INSKEEP: Others are real. There are pro-Gadhafi demonstrations that seem to be spontaneously arising.

Ms. COLVIN: Most of the pro-Gadhafi demonstrations you see are manufactured. And when I say manufactured, really manufactured. They have matching banners. They have, you know, matching green shirts.

But going out and talking to people - today, I was talking to people on a bank queue, and some of them were saying we need our jobs back. We need to get back to work. Most factories are closed. We support Gadhafi. We need some changes, but this is wrong to be fighting him. Others are sort of rabidly pro-Gadhafi.

It's very hard to tell what the percentage is, but you have anger I've never seen before in Libya, anger directed at Moammar Gadhafi. And you have other supporters.

INSKEEP: Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times is in Tripoli, Libya's capital.

Thanks very much.

Ms. COLVIN: Thank you. Good to talk to you.

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