Libyan Government Wants To Be Able To Defend Itself

Since Saturday, coalition forces have been launching airstrikes against Libyan air defenses, tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military hardware. The United Nations has refused an emergency request by Libya for a meeting to talk about the conflict. In the capital Tripoli, a government spokesman says the world is not allowing Libya to defend itself.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

Now it's the government of Libya that says the war in that country is unfair. A government spokesman in Tripoli is demanding that rebels stop shooting. His name is Ibrahim Moussa, and he spoke last night in the Libyan capital.

Mr. IBRAHIM MOUSSA (Spokesman, Libyan Government): Why is it that no one demanded of the rebels to announce a cease-fire? They have tanks. Everyone knows that. They have airplanes. They are advancing southward, now, towards Ajdabiya. If we attack them, we would be called murderers and killers.

INSKEEP: It was just days ago that government forces seemed on the verge of recapturing the entire country. Now things are moving in the other direction.

Our correspondent in Tripoli, David Greene, was at that briefing last night. He's on the line now.

And David, the spokesman sounds a good deal less defiant than just a day or two ago.

DAVID GREENE: Certainly. You are really feeling a change in the message from the Libyan government, Steve. I mean, it used to be that we are fighting terrorist elements. The government was saying they're going to, you know, go after them. They're liberating cities.

And now what we're hearing from the government, as you just heard, is that we are on the wrong end of what's an unfair situation, that U.S. and British planes, they say, are giving air cover to these rebel groups, and that the government here in Libya basically acknowledging that they have had to hold back. And what we're hearing from the rebels and also from the coalition forces is that they have sensed something of a pullback, especially from the eastern rebel stronghold in Benghazi, but at the same time in cities like Misurata. That's one that's a couple hours east of Tripoli. It sounds like the government has still been very active, and there are reports that they have been still firing on civilians.

INSKEEP: So the Libyan government seems to be acknowledging that they're pulling back under the pressure of these airstrikes, and we've been through another night of them. What happened? What have you seen and heard about what's going on?

GREENE: You're really getting into this routine in Tripoli, and we hear from government officials that that's the way residents are feeling. During the day, life sort of returns. I mean, I'm looking at a street right now that has, you know, some light traffic, and some stores are open. But then people really hunker down in the evening.

And after the sun goes down 8, 9 o'clock in the evening, including last night, that's when the action really starts. And we could hear last night what sounded like, you know, a good number of explosions, although we can't confirm that, and then just this barrage of anti-aircraft fire coming from the Libyan side -not clear that they've done anything but make a lot of noise and send a message. But they've certainly fired those tracers and that anti-aircraft fire into the air over the capital.

INSKEEP: And beyond your horizon, the U.S. military and other militaries have said they're continuing strikes across the country?

GREENE: They are continuing strikes, and U.S. and British officials say they're getting to that point where they feel like they're able to put this no-fly zone into place. And then we're going to hit this next phase, when the coalition forces have a big question to answer: Are they going to do more to embolden the rebels? Are they going to go after, you know, more tank battalions on the Libyan side to give the rebels more room to operate, or are they just going to put this no-fly zone into place and see what the rebels can do on their own? And that's one of the complaints from the Libyan government: Those coalition forces better not do more than they're allowed under the U.N. resolution.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Greene is in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

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