Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tripoli Resistance

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"It's very dangerous. I probably commit a hangable offense every day," says a Libyan who calls himself "Niz." ABC News spoke to Niz by Skype, the only way feels he can evade detection by Gadhafi forces who desperately want to discover his identity. Niz is the one of the leaders of the anti-Gadhafi resistance in Tripoli. He and his "Free Generation Movement" are the young Libyans behind what he calls "peaceful covert acts of defiance."

Another video shows someone painting a huge red, green and black flag, the flag of pre-Gadhafi Libya that has now become the flag of the resistance. In grainy darkness, it's possible to see someone unfurling it from an overpass in the heart of Tripoli. The flags include messages: "We Will Never Forget Our Martyrs," "Down With Gadafi" or simply, "Free Libya!"

"What it demonstrates is the existence of an anti-regime element in the city," Niz told ABC News. " It's not visible, so we make it visible. By doing something as simple as a flag drop we could get shot in the head. By doing so we boost morale and make everyone aware that there is a resistance."

Another video shows a resistance member preparing red, green and black paint and then daringly, in the night, rolling the banned colors onto the pavement of one of Tripoli's main roads.

"When we first set up operations in February, there were active demonstrations, but that was followed by a brutal crackdown," says Niz. "To give the regime credit, they were very successful in suppressing public dissent. So we took our operation underground."

Niz was born in Tripoli. He is a doctor in his late 20s who lives and works in London. Three days after the revolution began on Feb. 17, he took a leave from his medical practice and rushed home to take part in the 'liberation' of Libya. He thought it would happen much as it did in Tunisia and Egypt: a few days or a few weeks. Three months later, he is still in Tripoli, still fighting.

His family is frightened, but, he insists, they support what he is doing. "We are in a historic time, and all sacrifices must be made," says Niz. "They think this is essential. We all wish it would have been as simple as simply protesting in Martyrs Square. But it's not that simple."

One video shot on May 26 chronicles some key moments in a four-part audio assault in Tripoli's Fashlum District, an anti-Gadhafi area near Green Square that is under heavy security lockdown. "The significance of putting something in Fashlum was a way to say we salute you for your continued efforts of defiance," he says.

Niz's group prepared four self-powered speakers, each with SD cards playing a loop of the banned Libyan national anthem. For good measure, images of the banned flag, a sign reading "This is a gift to the heroes of Fashlum from the Free Generation Movement and the rest of the people of Tripoli" and a cartoon of Gadhafi with a slash through it were also included. The speakers and paraphernalia are concealed in a green trash bag.

The bags were discretely dropped In key locations across Fashlum: security check points or outside a mosque after evening prayers. First, there is one anthem blaring; 10 minutes later, another, then another then a fourth.

"We placed a speaker outside the mosque after sunset prayers, which is a very busy time," says Niz. "As everyone is coming out we pressed play. The anthem is blasting through the square. Everyone is smiling. People stopped and stared at the speaker. A policeman was standing next to the speaker, and he just walked away. A military man walked away, too. Not long after, a civilian came up to the speaker and kicked it. There was complete silence when that happened. People just watched him, and then walked away."

The mosque assault was not captured on video, but the drop on Fashlum street was. The footage shows a man placing the speaker on the pavement in the middle of the street near a checkpoint manned by Gadhafi forces. Various people walk past, cars stop to listen. A small group assembles at the end of the street. A few minutes later, a truck appears and a man picks up the bag, picks up the blaring bag, but locals tell him to leave it, and he does. Shortly after that several anxious shopkeepers close their stores, fearing something violent will erupt. Eventually an indignant security man picks up the bag and walks away with it.

Niz has also covertly captured footage of what he says are the growing number of anti-Gadhafi demonstrations erupting throughout Tripoli. On Monday he was in the Souk al Jomaa District for the funeral of two brothers who died in the resistance while attacking Gadhafi security forces. What followed was an angry anti-Gadhafi demonstration that lasted several hours before police broke it up with bullets.

Watch video of the street rally HERE.
Watch video of the funeral and after the funeral HERE.
Watch the security crack down HERE.

Niz says the Gadhafi regime is gradually losing control.

"There is no doubt that there is a progressive, albeit slow, increase in activity, which is leading to 'zero hour' [the fall of Gadhafi]. How close are we to zero hour?" asks Niz. "I can't say. I can tell you that we are moving toward it rather than away from it. There are more and more things happening every day against the regime. But the cloak of fear has to fall. It is falling, but it hasn't fallen. This is Tripoli, where Gadhafi is. This is the place he will defend to the death."

In Libya, a despot's defiance
Bloodbath in Tripoli as tyrant Gaddafi threatens to 'cleanse' country

By Kim Sengupta, Diplomatic Correspondent and David Usborne

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last night warned Libya's growing opposition that he would rather die as a martyr than leave the country he has ruled for more than 40 years, setting the stage for a brutal conclusion to a conflict that has grown bloodier by the day.

In a rambling address that was far removed from the uncharacteristic brevity of his surreal appearance on state television the night before, the dictator branded protesters as easily manipulated "children" and "terrorists" who should be executed.

"We have not used force yet," he said, despite mounting evidence that his regime has conducted a ferocious campaign to force demonstrators from the streets, with at least 295 people reported dead and many more unaccounted for. He issued a chilling ultimatum to his enemies, who appear to have largely driven his forces from the east of the country. "If we need to use force, we will use it," he added. "If weapons are not handed over, we will announce the holy march. I will call on millions from one desert to another to cleanse Libya house by house."

Colonel Gaddafi, 68, spoke from behind a podium at the residence that was hit by US air strikes in the 1980s. Dressed in a brown turban and cloak, he pounded his fist and pointed his finger as he spoke via video screen to a few hundred supporters in Tripoli's Green Square. He blamed the unrest on foreign powers, brainwashing, drug dealers and regional turmoil that has preceded Libya's incipient civil war: "Go out in the street, arrest them. Their crimes are punishable by execution."

As oil prices rocketed in response to an apparent threat to suspend exports, the Libyan leader declared himself the personification of the country's most proudly held values. "Muammar Gaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution," he said.

But his claims to glory, liberty and resistance stood in sharp contrast to the horrific scenes on the streets of Tripoli, which witnesses described as a bloodbath. "They were firing at any living thing," said one resident. "Bodies are in the streets; those injured and now bleeding cannot find a hospital or an ambulance to rescue them. Nobody is allowed to get in and if anybody gets in, [they] will be shot to death."

The witness, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution, said he came upon a group of militiamen as he tried to escape the violence. "The Libyans among them warned me to leave and showed me bodies of the dead," he said. "They told me, 'We were given orders to shoot anybody who moves in the place'."

Armed Gaddafi loyalists, including some apparently from sub-Saharan Africa, were reported to have set up roadblocks and opened fire from rooftops. Another protester described ruthless violence in Green Square. "Men wearing civilian clothing in the square were shooting at us," he told Human Rights Watch. "I saw guys taking off their shirts and exposing their chests to the snipers. I have never seen anything like it. I was very ashamed to hide under a tree but I am human."

The protests came in response to Colonel Gaddafi's previous broadcast, which infuriated the opposition – although many people did not hear his speech because of power cuts. One who did, a 22-year-old student from Tripoli named Mina Abdullah, said: "It was an insult. He did not say sorry for the killings and all the terrible things his men have been doing. We had really hoped he had gone away, but he is still here and all the troubles will continue and there will be no change."

As violence spread, a mass exodus got underway. Big oil multinationals, aid organisations and foreign governments activated emergency airlifts, while thousands of people gathered at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. Reports from within Libya suggested that the regime had lost its grip on the east of the country.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council condemned the crackdown on anti-government protesters and demanded an immediate end to the violence.

A press statement agreed by all 15 council members expressed "grave concern" at the situation in Libya and condemned the violence and use of force against civilians. Council members called for immediate access for international human rights monitors. It also underlined the need for the government to respect the rights to peaceful assembly, free expression and press freedom.

Libya's deputy UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi has called for Colonel Gaddafi to step down and called its attacks on peaceful protesters "genocide". He said the council statement was "not strong enough" but was "a good step to stopping the bloodshed". He said he had received information that Colonel Gaddafi's collaborators have started "attacking people in all the cities in western Libya".

Mr Dabbashi's superior, who was notable by his absence on Monday, said last night he was remaining at Colonel Gaddafi's side and promised that the violence in Libya would cease. "They will stop everything. They will stop this escalation, stop this crackdown," Ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham told reporters.

The army deployed a "large number" of soldiers in Sabratah, 50 miles west of Tripoli, after protesters destroyed almost all the security services offices, the online Quryna newspaper reported. Facing the rebels in Tripoli, for the first time in numbers, were Bedouin tribesmen who had come into the capital to show support for Colonel Gaddafi.

Libya's symbolic defiance

The backdrop for Colonel Gaddafi's tirade spoke volumes of symbolic defiance. Tripoli's Bab Al-Azizia Barracks were once part of his private residence until they were ravaged by bombs dropped by American jet fighters in 1986, a key event that led to the Lockerbie bombing by Libyan agents two years later.

The US attack on the barracks was a retaliatory strike ordered by President Ronald Reagan, who accused Libyan forces of orchestrating a bomb blast in a West Berlin nightclub which killed two members of the US army. Never repaired, the barracks have become a monument to Libyan defiance, underlined by a sculpture of a fist clenched around a crushed US bomber.

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