Libyans Still Wary To Speak Against Gadhafi

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The Libyan government is trying to show a united front of support for Moammar Gadhafi by taking foreign journalists to pro-government demonstrations. The people at those gatherings are vehement and apparently genuine in their support. There are, however, other Libyans whose voices aren't being heard, voices of dissent in places where dissent is dangerous.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

At the start of your Friday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Libyan government in Tripoli is aiming to prove that Libyans love their leader, Moammar Gadhafi. To that end, officials are taking foreign journalists to pro-government demonstrations. The people at those gatherings are vehement and apparently genuine in their support for Gadhafi. But there are other Libyans whose voices are not being heard - voices of dissent in places where such talk is dangerous. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Tripoli.

Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

COREY FLINTOFF: This is what foreign journalists are usually shown in the parts of Libya controlled by the government. A busload of journalists is taken by government minders to a demonstration in Bani Waleed, a farming community about two hours southeast of Tripoli. They're greeted by about 200 pro-Gadhafi demonstrators, who also arrive by bus. Many are waving green flags and carrying posters of the leader.

Some of the women say they've been training to defend the government. They give somewhat awkward demonstrations of assembling AK-47 rifles, helped along by a woman in Army fatigues.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

They show their resolve by firing the rifles into the air. Several of them pose with an unloaded rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Twenty-year-old Leila Khalid Basheer, an English student, says her whole country stands with the leader:

Ms. LEILA KHALID BASHEER (Student): They are Libyan people. They love Moammar Gadhafi so much. Everyone loves Moammar Gadhafi. All of us will die for him. We'll die for him. There's no change for our leader or our flag. Our flag is green, there is no other color.

FLINTOFF: And indeed, the parts of Bani Waleed seen by the journalists look like bastions of support for the government. Many of the houses and buildings are decked with green flags that look like they've been there for quite awhile. There's no way of knowing whether there are parts of town that are disaffected. It's only when journalists get out without minders that they're able to hear other views.

(Soundbite of engine)

This is a poorer neighborhood in Tripoli, away from the neat houses and well-paved streets around the center of the city. Here, the streets are pocked with potholes, with heaps of trash along the walls. Even when there are no government minders present, people are wary of talking to reporters.

People in this neighborhood say there are frequent visits from the police at night. They say they hear gunfire, and that the police have been arresting people. They ask that their names and locations not be given and insist on no photographs. They were aware that they were being recorded, but the audio recorder was kept out of sight.

Unidentified Man: So when you think about what's going to happen...

This man, speaking very softly, says he has thought about leaving Tripoli to go fight on the side of the rebels. He says he can't leave because he's afraid that if everyone went to join the rebels in Misrata or in the Nafusa Mountains, the city would be in the hands of Gadhafi's men. If everyone who opposes Gadhafi went to join the rebels, he says, the city would be almost empty.

(Soundbite of music)

Another man, speaking softly in his noisy shop, says he's grateful for the NATO intervention.

Unidentified Man #2: Thank you, NATO. Thank you.

FLINTOFF: What he says is, thank you, Obama, thank you, NATO.

A group of young men and teenagers, passed on the street, welcomed the reporters. One said, we're all against Gadhafi.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Tripoli.

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