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U.S., British Air Strikes Aim For Tripoli

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U.S., British Air Strikes Aim For Tripoli

Middle East

U.S., British Air Strikes Aim For Tripoli

U.S., British Air Strikes Aim For Tripoli

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Overnight, the U.S., France and Britain pounded Libyan military targets from the skies. A defiant Col. Moammar Gadhafi shot back, with anti-aircraft fire and tough words. Host Liane Hansen gets the latest on the conflict in Libya from NPR's David Greene in Tripoli.

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

HANSEN: This was the sound of central Tripoli in the overnight hours. The U.S. and Britain pounded Libyan military targets with hundreds of cruise missiles. A defiant Moammar Gadhafi shot back with anti-aircraft fire and tough words. Gadhafi delivered another defiant speech this morning. He described international leaders as criminals and animals. We'll talk about the allied military campaign in Libya in a moment.

First, to the scene in Tripoli and NPR's David Greene. David, sounds like it was a very noisy night where you are.

DAVID GREENE: It was quite a noisy night, Liane. You know, the first hours of this military campaign we didn't really get a sense of it here in central Tripoli. But then last night, just before 3 A.M. local time, things just became very loud. But you could hear distant explosions, kind of a thumping in the distance outside the city, but then there was just this barrage of anti- aircraft fire that you were hearing at the top and it just kept going.

You saw that the tracer fire, those red streaks across the sky that we might remember from seeing the initial stages of the war in Iraq in the early 1990s.

So, you really get the sense that things are happening here. And it wasn't far from right here in the center of the city. Moammar Gadhafi does have a huge military compound right in the center not far from where we are. It's possible that the anti-aircraft fire was coming from there.

HANSEN: Any details from the Libyan government about what's been hit and what the damage has been?

GREENE: Well, immediately yesterday, Liane, as soon as the campaign started, Libyan officials started saying that civilian buildings had been hit. They said hospitals were filling up. They released a number earlier this morning saying that 48 people have been killed in the attacks so far. But there's no way to independently confirm any of this right now.

While they're telling us this, the government also continues to keep Western journalists basically locked down in a hotel and they have so far refused our requests to actually go to a hospital or actually have them take us to a site that they claim has been hit. So, right now we're just going on their word.

HANSEN: As I mentioned, Colonel Gadhafi gave an address to his people this morning. Elaborate on what he had to say.

GREENE: Very angry, and, you know, we've heard about this time of revolutions across this area of the world. Well, Gadhafi basically said in response to these military strikes, he wants to start his own revolution and here's a bit of what he had to say.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI: (Through Translator) And now we're asking all the people in Asia, in Africa, in Latin American, even in Europe, we ask you to rise against your government. This is a new revolution in the Gulf.

GREENE: And I want to tell you, Liane, the image that was showing on state-run television as Gadhafi was speaking - in 1986, you know, President Reagan ordered a strike on Libya and Moammar Gadhafi's compound was hit. It still stands in partial rubble and Gadhafi is very proud, saying that he survived that attack. And the image was showing, as he was speaking today, this statue of a big giant gold fist grasping the model of an American jet fighter. So, very powerful.

HANSEN: Are Libyans rallying around him? I mean, what's the reaction been of people there in Tripoli?

GREENE: It really differs, actually. We had a very loud, boisterous group who came in very angry at Western journalists, angry at the world and came into our hotel - I think there's a little tape of them here - chanting some anti- American slogans, anti-media slogans at us in our hotel as we were having breakfast this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

GREENE: They're saying down with U.S.A. They said down with CNN, down with Al- Jazeera. They say there have been lies on television. This comes in a climate where a government spokesman here says they're going to follow on Gadhafi's call to arm civilians. That's one side of the propaganda coming from the government.

But as you're here in Tripoli, Liane - and this has started over the last 24 hours or so - we and other news organizations are starting to hear people from Tripoli begin to speak out against Gadhafi. I think they've been very frightened, sort of staying hidden during much of Gadhafi's campaign against the rebels.

But now that things are started, you can talk to a few people. It's often under the very watchful eye of the police. And people are very frightened to say anything. In talking to a Western journalist in an interview there's not being guarded and watched by a government minder can raise suspicions for people immediately.

HANSEN: NPR's David Greene in Tripoli. Thank you very much, David.

GREENE: Good to be with you, Liane.

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