Gaddafi cannot count on Tripoli loyalty

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Gauging the reaction in Tripoli to the UN move to impose a no-fly zone was always going to be a tall order on Friday, as security was tightened around the Rixos hotel, the gilded cage where most foreign journalists arriving in the capital are housed.

“We are doing this for your own safety,” one of the ever-present government minders told journalists attempting to leave the hotel compound and report from downtown Tripoli.

The city, they argued, was full of enraged Libyan patriots indignant at the country’s shoddy treatment at the hands of the UN. “If something happened to you, they would blame us. You are our guests, but you have to behave,” one minder said.

Late in the afternoon the minders relented, and three white vans took a crowd of journalists to see the streets of Tripoli.

At the UN mission to Tripoli, another bus disgorged a sea of protesters waving green flags who mobbed television cameras shouting “the people want Muammer the colonel” and “with our spirit, with our blood, we have faith in you Muammer”.

Most wanted to lecture the attendant journalists. “The media manipulates the conflict,” said one. “It is not as you have read and seen on television screens. These are not Libyans fighting Libyans. These are armed gangs and al-Qaeda.”

“Libya is not Benghazi,” shouted one man, referring to the city in the east that has become the rebel stronghold.

But farther away from the centre the story got more interesting.

In the suburb of Tajoura, the site of protests two weeks ago that were put down with force by the regime, the scene was totally different.

There was evidence of past street battles – the residue of burning tyre barricades in the road and shuttered stores.

The end of prayers at the Murad Agha mosque, as it has on most recent Fridays, brought a demonstration, according to residents. But soldiers shot in the air and dispersed the crowd.

“There is a battalion of soldiers stationed around this mosque and they didn’t even let the demonstration start,” said one man, who said no one had been injured in the protests but that they would likely happen again during evening prayers.

“The people want Gaddafi out,” and they were more confident after the UN resolution, he added.

Soon afterwards five soldiers in a pick-up truck detained the Financial Times briefly before escorting a reporter back to the Rixos hotel.

On the way there one of the soldiers unburdened himself about the prospect of international intervention in Libya’s civil war.

“This [UN] resolution isn’t worth the paper its written on,” declared the squad leader, who declined to give his name. “We don’t mistreat anybody. It is all lies, the press lies about us. Ceasefire? I don’t know what they mean. We are not fighting. You can see that the situation here is calm, and there are no demonstrations.”

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