Rebels' Capture Of Refinery Puts Squeeze On Tripoli In Libya, rebel forces have seized an oil refinery outside the town of Zawiya. Its capture puts a greater squeeze on Tripoli, leader Moammar Gadhafi's main stronghold 30 miles to the west. Robert Siegel talks with reporter Missy Ryan of Reuters, who's in Tripoli, about the situation in the Libyan capital.
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Rebels' Capture Of Refinery Puts Squeeze On Tripoli

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Rebels' Capture Of Refinery Puts Squeeze On Tripoli

Rebels' Capture Of Refinery Puts Squeeze On Tripoli

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Now, to Libya, where rebels have seized an oil refinery in Zawiya, as well as the city's central square. Zawiya is just west of Tripoli, and that puts an even tighter squeeze on the capital city. As we heard yesterday, residents of Tripoli are fleeing. There are shortages of electricity and gasoline. And the main resupply corridor for forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi is now blocked. For more on the isolation in Tripoli, we're joined by Missy Ryan of Reuters. She is in Tripoli. Missy Ryan, welcome to the program.

MISSY RYAN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, give us a picture of how cut off the city of Tripoli is at this point.

RYAN: Well, at this stage, Tripoli is surrounded on three sides by rebels and by the Mediterranean on the fourth. The road to Tunisia really was the capital's sole link to the outside world and the pipeline for smuggled fuel, food and other goods.

SIEGEL: And now, as cut off as it is, in Tripoli, how bad is the shortage of fuel or electricity that we've heard about?

RYAN: Prices for fuel and cooking gas have increased exponentially in recent months. And now, there are fears that it could get even worse. There are rolling power outages across the city. Yesterday, for example, power was out across the city for five hours.

SIEGEL: Now, as I understand it, there were NATO bombings tonight in Tripoli. What can you tell us about that?

RYAN: NATO conducts airstrikes almost nightly in different parts of Tripoli and occasionally during the day. Today, we were attending a news conference at the prime minister's office in central Tripoli, and there was a series of explosions that shook all the buildings in central Tripoli.

SIEGEL: Now, I know that your movements, those of reporters in Tripoli, generally, are controlled by the government there, but to the extent that you can get about and talk to people, what you hear from residents, from people who live in the city, from people who own shops in the city, what do they say about these times?

RYAN: People are very worried. Those that support Gadhafi and those that don't are worried. They're worried about what a long siege will mean for food and fuel, as I said, and they're worried about what a rebel advance into the city will mean.

SIEGEL: Worried that there will be fighting in the city or that there will be recriminations against supporters of the regime?

RYAN: No one really knows what to expect here in Tripoli. Gadhafi has distributed weapons to many Tripoli residents, and some of them are promising to fight to the death. There could be a very bloody battle.

SIEGEL: But when you say Gadhafi has distributed weapons to residents of the city and that they will fight, are there also organized units, intact units of the Libyan army that are fighting in defense of Gadhafi?

RYAN: You actually don't see many soldiers or military vehicles on the streets of Tripoli. It appears to be a very quiet city at the moment. There certainly are checkpoints across the city, and there's a sense that security has been intensified. But most of the checkpoints are manned by volunteers.

SIEGEL: And do you get the sense that Libyans who are in Tripoli by definition support Gadhafi, or are there many opponents of him there who might conceivably assist the rebels once they get there?

RYAN: There certainly is opposition to Gadhafi in Tripoli. People tend to be very quiet about it, especially when discussing their feelings with foreign reporters who are accompanied by government minders. It's just difficult for the foreign media to know the extent of support for the opposition and the degree to which they're organized to rise up if rebels do enter the city. And we get reports every morning of isolated clashes in certain parts of the city, but it's virtually impossible for us to verify them.

SIEGEL: Well, you're there. As the government has lost much of its access to the outside world, how do they explain it? How do your minders put a brave face on what's happened to the regime?

RYAN: The Gadhafi government describes the rebels as armed gangs, and they contend that they will be able to defeat them militarily in short order. Obviously, no one knows whether that's the case.

SIEGEL: Well, Missy Ryan, thanks for talking with us and take care.

RYAN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Missy Ryan of Reuters speaking to us from the capital of Libya, Tripoli.

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