In Gadhafi's Tripoli, Libyans Cautiously Voice Dissent

In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, a Libyan student holds a portrait of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Libya. The government has many die-hard supporters in the capital, but pockets of opposition can be found. i i

hide captionIn this photo taken on a government-organized tour, a Libyan student holds a portrait of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Libya. The government has many die-hard supporters in the capital, but pockets of opposition can be found.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP
In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, a Libyan student holds a portrait of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Libya. The government has many die-hard supporters in the capital, but pockets of opposition can be found.

In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, a Libyan student holds a portrait of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, Libya. The government has many die-hard supporters in the capital, but pockets of opposition can be found.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP

The Libyan government maintains that the capital, Tripoli, is a stronghold of support for leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The government routinely organizes pro-Gadhafi demonstrations, and state-run TV channels keep up a steady flow of videos that portray Libyans as victims of NATO aggression.

But for reporters who manage to slip away from their government minders, pockets of opposition aren't hard to find.

The dissidents say opposition to the government is widespread, despite a state security crackdown that keeps them in a constant state of fear and distrust.

Anti-Gadhafi Sentiment

One dissident recently made contact with NPR by slipping his cell phone number to a reporter in a shop. He later took reporters to his home, a house on a side street in a working-class neighborhood of Tripoli called Souk al-Juma.

He and an English-speaking friend were eager to talk about their opposition to the Libyan government, but they asked that their names not be used for fear of retaliation.

The man says he has a low-level job in the Libyan intelligence agency, but that he hates Gadhafi and wants to see him go. He says that living conditions are poor for people like himself, despite the country's oil wealth, and he blames the government.

Both men say there is strong opposition to Gadhafi in their neighborhood. "Maybe 90 percent," one man says, "but they can't say that because it's very danger[ous], because he use everything to kill these people, you know."

There were demonstrations against the government here in February, they say, that were quickly and savagely put down by Libyan soldiers and police.

Now, they say, residents are fighting back.

"Every night there is guns, bombs, every night, [e]specially in this area," one man says.

"From the police?" a reporter asks. "No," the man says, "from the people who [are] against Gadhafi."

Waiting For Rebel Help

The men say they're not in contact with any organized rebel groups in Tripoli, but they believe that such organizations exist, because of the level of attacks against the police.

They say anti-Gadhafi groups in Tripoli are waiting for help from the rebels who are trying to advance on the capital.

"Yes, we waiting, now," the man says. "But in the Tripoli it's very difficult to do anything, because a lot of military of Gadhafi stay here, and the police, everywhere. And they use the guns without any feeling, you know? Just kill the people."

These men are not alone. Dissidents are found in other neighborhoods as well.

On another day, after a big pro-government rally in Tripoli, reporters asked a shopkeeper whether he had attended: "No," he said, "because it's nothing convincing. It's all lies."

He said most people in his neighborhood, Fashloom, have opposed the government, not just for the past five months, but for the past 20 years.

Asked what he thought of the NATO action against Gadhafi, he said, "NATO has made some mistakes, but God willing, they will bring a good result."

The shopkeeper also said he doesn't believe the claims made by Libya's government-run TV channels, which say that NATO bombing has killed large numbers of civilians.

The two men who spoke earlier say it's just a matter of time before the rebels reach Tripoli. When the rebels come, they say, they'll find a lot of people ready to help them.

"When they come here, all the people in Tripoli, they will rise up," one man says. "Yes, it's true. I am sure."

It's impossible to gauge just how strong the opposition to the government may be in Tripoli — and it is clear that the government also has many die-hard supporters here.

Many people fear that a rebel advance on the city could trigger bloody clashes between the two sides.

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