Fighting Continues In Libya

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Fighting continues in Libya as pro-Gadhafi troops fought rebel forces in Tripoli. Zawiya, a city just to the west of the capital, was also a scene of violent clashes today. Host Michele Norris talks with New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick about the latest developments.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

If Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has given any secret thought to giving up power, there was no sign of that in Libya today. West of the capital, forces loyal to Gadhafi tried to retake the city of Zawiya. There were deaths and injuries.

BLOCK: In the east, in Benghazi, a city that's become a rebel stronghold, there was a massive explosion with many causalities. And in Tripoli, Gadhafi supporters stopped a protest with guns and teargas.

NORRIS: For more on the violence in Tripoli, I'm joined by David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times.

And, David, it sounds like it's been another day of very violent clashes. What's been happening there in the capital city?

Mr. DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK (Reporter, The New York Times): Well, we've had an eventful day here. As you know, a number of us, members of the foreign press, are here as guests of the Gadhafi government, and they have promised us complete freedom of motion.

But this morning, the Internet had been shut down around the city. And second, that they had in store for us today a flight to a desert town in the south, and when we rebelled against that, they tried to close the gates to our hotel and keep us here.

A few of us, including myself, managed to sneak out and get to a mosque that is kind of a stronghold of the protesters. And indeed, there was a protest.

Thousands of people poured out of this mosque cheering, and by the time they got to the roundabout at the corner, I would say there were only about 300 left.

After about a half an hour, two trucks of security forces showed up and began firing teargas at the crowd. They scattered. Some of the young people came back trying to throw rocks in the direction of the police who responded with live bullets. Doctors who were there told me that at least two people had been wounded.

NORRIS: You mentioned that these were militia that were firing with live ammunition on the crowds. Were these members of the Gadhafi security forces, members of the army? Were they paid mercenaries? Were you able to ascertain who's actually firing on the crowd?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: We got to wrap this whole question about who the militia are in the context of the major of the security forces in the army here. Colonel Gadhafi, who took power in a military coup, has kept his army weak and divided.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: The army was internally organized all tribal lines and was almost built to fracture. And that is what has happened. Substantial portions of the army in the east have defected and joined the rebels.

But Gadhafi doesn't really rely on the army to control the populace. For that, he has a variety of other special militias which are more loyal to him. There just is no Libyan army the way we think of an army with discipline, command and control, one general at the top. They don't have any of that.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm. Does it appear that Gadhafi still has very strong control over the capital city?

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Gadhafi still has very strong control of the capital city, no doubt about it. And at the drop of a hat, he can produce large crowds of young men in green bandanas shouting about how much they love Gadhafi or rally a big crowd in Green Square.

NORRIS: Can you tell us about the clashes outside of Tripoli, particularly in Zawiya, west of the city? Pro-Gadhafi forces reportedly opened fire there on unarmed protesters.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: Zawiya is still in a kind of fog-of-war situation as far as we're concerned because we're not able to go there. So we have to rely on interviews over the telephone. As best I can tell, there was a clash in the morning with the militia that ring the city. It's a rebel-held city, and the Gadhafi militia there is circled around it.

Some rebel sympathizers tried to make their way in from the west gate in the morning, and that induced some kind of confrontation. I'm not sure how many people were hurt there. I'd heard 65 people were missing.

On the other side, there was a demonstration after Friday prayers where the folks there were celebrating, and there was some shooting. Now, the protesters say they were unarmed and did nothing to provoke. They say that at least 13 were killed in that encounter.

Later tonight, the Gadhafi government told me they have retaken the town. Now, the folks I've talked to in Zawiya say nothing of the kind. They think the rebels still hold the town. So we're still trying to puzzle that out.

NORRIS: David Kirkpatrick, thank you very much for your time.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK: It was a pleasure.

NORRIS: Please stay safe.

That's David D. Kirkpatrick. He's a reporter for The New York Times. We spoke to him in Tripoli, Libya.

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