The Road Into Libya Clogged With Challenges
SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
In Libya, the area controlled by Libya leader Moammar Gadhafi is showing the strains caused by NATOs embargo and bombing campaigns. The once prosperous oil-producing country is importing food and even fuel from neighboring Tunisia.
NPRs Corey Flintoff reports from western Libya that Gadhafis government is also cracking down harder on foreign journalists covering the situation there.
COREY FLINTOFF: The main border crossing from Tunisia to Libya is at Ras Adjir, where the highway runs along the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
(Soundbite of conversations)
FLINTOFF: Journalists wait for the bus to Tripoli at a cafe on the Libyan side, and the first thing that greets them is a television set blaring scenes of pro-Gadhafi demonstrations in Libyan towns.
(Soundbite of chanting women)
FLINTOFF: The scenes of demonstrations are interspersed with grisly images of people killed by what the government says were NATO airstrikes.
Outside, the traffic at the border shows signs of shortages.
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FLINTOFF: On the Libyan side, were seeing long lines of empty trucks waiting to cross over into Tunisia. And on the other side, were seeing a trickle of heavily-laden trucks coming from the Tunisian side. Most of them seem to be carrying foodstuffs - sacks of grain and things like that.
Were also seeing signs of the fuel shortages here in Libya. Many of the cars and trucks that weve seen were carrying jugs full of gasoline and diesel fuel. We're also seeing private cars and pickup trucks that are carrying bicycles, sometimes as many as two or three on each vehicle, which apparently people are using because its so difficult to obtain fuel for their cars.
The Libyan governments relations with foreign reporters are also showing signs of stress. Reporters traveling to Tripoli, the Libyan capital, are required to travel on a government bus, presided over by an official who collects their passports.
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FLINTOFF: This busload of journalists was only on the road to Tripoli for about 10 minutes, when the official got a phone call ordering him to turn back to the border crossing. It seems there was a problem with someones visa.
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FLINTOFF: Veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson was ordered to take his baggage and get off the bus. The official said his visa wasnt in order. Simpson and the other journalists resisted for about an hour, until it became apparent that the bus wasnt going to Tripoli with Simpson on board.
Mr. JOHN SIMPSON (Reporter, BBC): Thank you very much, everybody all the best. But Im sorry to have delayed you...
FLINTOFF: Simpson has reported extensively from Libya, and thinks hes being banned because he gave offense to the Libyan government.
Mr. SIMPSON: Partly the BBC, which has been reporting the kind of things they dont like about internal problems and internal dissention in Tripoli itself. And I think its partly me, because Ive had a long and checkered history with the Libyans. And I think maybe they just have decided they dont want me back, at a time when things are starting to prove a little bit difficult for them.
FLINTOFF: Simpson said he'd stay on the Libyan side of the border and try to negotiate with the government authorities.
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FLINTOFF: Meanwhile, the bus carries the remaining journalists on the two-and-a-half hour drive to Tripoli, passing through a series of dusty towns where hundreds of cars sit parked outside gas stations, waiting for a chance to get some fuel.
Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Tripoli.
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