Ramadan Arrives In Rebel-Held Libya
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: In Libya today, the situation and rebel eastern part of the country is tense.
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WERTHEIMER: There are clashes going on between rival rebel factions in the city of Benghazi. The skirmishes come after the mysterious death of a senior rebel military commander, apparently at the hands of his own forces. All this amid preparations for the Holy Month of Ramadan.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rebel fighters in pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns parade through this residential area, claiming they have been victorious in rounding up pro Gadhafi fifth columnists that's supposedly infiltrated the city. People don't look reassured. Rumors are rife in this rebel stronghold. Benghazi is jumpy with reason.
Rebel groups have been facing off against each other on the back of suspicion over who killed commander Abdel Fatah Younis last week. His body turned up shot and burned. And there have been no clear answers yet as to who was behind the assassination, except that it seems it was someone within the rebel army.
There has been fighting all night and into the day at a nearby base. But with Ramadan approaching residents here have other concerns too.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: This morning most banks in Benghazi were mobbed. At one venue, dozens of people shout and push; tempers are short and armed fighters try and keep the bank from being overrun.
Dr. AYMAN IDRISS: (Arabic language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Ayman Idriss says the banks have had no money for several weeks now and people are running short of cash. Ramadan is an especially sensitive time. Huge meals are prepared in the evening for family gatherings, and they cost a lot of money.
At the moment, the rebel east is being kept afloat by international donations, from the Arab world and Turkey. When the banks have cash to give out depends on when the pledged funds come in.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the city of Ajdabiya, nearest the frontline fighting, two hours to the west of Benghazi, things are even worse.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: At this supermarket, Ramadan sweets and the traditional dates that are used to break the fast are being sold.
AHMED SHAEK: (Arabic language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed Shaek, a businessman, says prices have shot up and making money stretch has been hard. Electricity too has been in short supply. In Ajdabiya they have none for at least six hours a day and this is in the sweltering heat. Come Ramadan, they will be fasting for 14 hours which will make matters worse.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: At a rebel checkpoint on the windy road to the front line, fighter Ali Safi says they will try and fast during Ramadan.
ALI SAFI: (Arabic language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says that he's been told that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, says those waging battle can eat and drink to keep up their strength. But Ali Safi says most of the fighters will observe the restrictions. He says it will bring us closer to God and victory.
The rebels had initially hoped to defeat Gadhafi by Ramadan. Now they are saying it will happen after the Eid celebrations, which mark the end of the fasting month. But the fight for Libya seems to be at a stalemate for now. And many people are girding for many hard months to come.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Ajdabiya, on a wall in the center of town, families and friends have put up posters of the missing and the dead. It's become a kind of shrine. (Arabic language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One man who came to visit the wall has lost his uncle. He went missing on the front lines near Ras Lanuf several months ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Arabic language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Another man says everyone here has had friends and family who've gone missing or died. Others have people fighting now at the front. It's going to be a very sad Ramadan, he says; everyone is waiting for their loved ones to come home.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Eastern Libya.
WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.
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