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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now, in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi's regime is also trying to contain the opposition. The government cracks down swiftly on any sign of dissent in the capital, Tripoli, and also employs minders to keep tabs on visiting journalists.

But for reporters who manage to slip away from their minders, the opposition is not hard to find. The dissidents say opposition to the government is widespread, even though fear of security forces keeps them from protesting publicly. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Tripoli.

COREY FLINTOFF: This is a house on a side street in a working class neighborhood of Tripoli called Souk al-Jumaa. Its owner made contact with NPR by slipping his cell phone number to a reporter in a shop. He and an English-speaking friend are eager to talk about their opposition to the Libyan government, but they ask that their names not be used and that their voices be electronically altered so they can't be identified.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: He said that he work in the security, and he hate Gadhafi so much.

FLINTOFF: Are there a lot of people around here who are against Gadhafi?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, there are a lot of people, yes. In this area, I think maybe 90 percent.

FLINTOFF: Against Gadhafi?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah. But they can't say that because it's very danger, because he use everything to kill these people.

FLINTOFF: 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.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: Every night there is guns, bombs, every night, especially in this area.

FLINTOFF: From the police?

Unidentified Man #2: No, from the people who are against Gadhafi.

FLINTOFF: 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.

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, we waiting, now. But in the Tripoli it's very difficult to do anything here, because a lot of military of Gadhafi stay here, and the police, everywhere. And they use their guns without any feeling, you know, just kill the people.

FLINTOFF: These men are not alone. Dissidents are to be found in other neighborhoods as well. On another day, after a big pro-government rally in Tripoli, reporters asked this shopkeeper whether he had attended.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: 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 this...

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: NATO has made some mistakes, he says, 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. And when the rebels come, they say, they'll find a lot of people ready to help them.

Unidentified Man #2: When they come here, all the people here in Tripoli, they will rise up. Yes, it's true. I am sure.

FLINTOFF: It's impossible to gauge just how strong the opposition to the government may be in Tripoli, but 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.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Tripoli.

KELLY: And this update the U.S. said today it will join other countries and formally recognize Libya's main opposition group as the legitimate government. That'll mean more aid and credibility for the National Transitional Council, which is seeking to oust Moammar Gadhafi.

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