Sunday, May 15, 2011
Rixos Hotel Tripoli
With an 18,000-square-foot spa, helicopter service upon request and a self-described “culture of service perfection,” the Rixos is Tripoli’s premier hotel.
But over the weekend, the 120-room oasis in the center of the war-torn Libyan capital became a prison for the journalists working from there. Armed government forces have refused to let journalists leave. And even if they wanted to, a raging gun battle outside would probably prevent them from getting very far.
As a result, journalists from CNN, Reuters, the BBC and other international news organizations were holed up inside with no electricity or air-conditioning, forced to stand clear of any windows because of stray bullets.
“It’s just become so dangerous being here,” said CNN’s Matthew Chance, the cable channel’s senior international correspondent, who was still able to broadcast an occasional update and provided regular commentary via Twitter.
“We’re talking about heavy explosions, artillery shells, rocket-propelled grenades,” he said in a television appearance on Monday.
Over the course of the six-month conflict, the Rixos Hotel has become a hub for Libyan government officials and scores of foreign journalists, who have stayed there with the blessing of the Qaddafi government.
The government required journalists with credentials and visas to stay at the hotel, where they were kept under a close watch. Trips into Tripoli conflict zones were led by chaperones, and no journalists were allowed out without one.
The other option for foreign journalists was to trail the rebel forces as they fought their way through areas of Libya. This was seen as a less safe but also a less restrictive option. Those journalists are now reporting from the streets of Tripoli.
Government officials had turned the Rixos into something of a command center, holding news conferences and anchoring state television broadcasts there. Some officials brought their families there to stay with them.
Shortly before rebel forces swept into Tripoli and took control, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, insisted in a press briefing at the Rixos that the city would withstand any rebel assault.
But by Sunday night, many officials had fled, leaving only a few armed men to prevent the foreign journalists from going anywhere.
Matthew Price, a correspondent for the BBC, wrote in an online entry, “Gaddafi men are outside with guns, waiting. We still can’t leave.”
By about 1 p.m. New York time, 7 p.m. in Tripoli, Mr. Chance wrote on Twitter, “Running low on food and water.” Of being held captive, he said, “It’s no fun.”