Africa

Libya: Tripoli protesters risk lives for change

Anti-Gaddafi protester in Tajoura, 4 March 2011
Image caption The protest took place despite reports of deaths and detentions

Whatever may be happening in Eastern or Western Libya as pro- and anti-government forces clash, the message from the Gaddafi regime is that the heartland of Tripoli and its surrounding areas are solidly loyal to the government.

More than once in recent days, the man who has ruled over this country for the last four decades has remarked how "everybody loves me" and that there are no demonstrations against him in the capital.

Today we saw the reality. Tajoura is a working class suburb on the outskirts of Tripoli and, judging by Friday's protests, is increasingly a focus of anti-government sentiment.

I spoke to several young protesters who knew they were taking huge risks - many people are reported to have been killed here in recent days.

In a crude, perhaps desperate, attempt to stop protesters gathering, the police have also been arresting young people in late-night pre-emptive raids.

It didn't work. Hundreds gathered outside the old mosque in the central part of Tajoura after prayers.

Loud and vociferous but initially peaceful, they shouted anti-Gaddafi slogans, waved pre-regime flags and painted graffiti on walls and paved roads.

Then without warning, all hell was let loose. Several police vehicles sped into the area. Dozens of tear gas canisters and hard plastic baton rounds were fired at the protesters.

Pursued by police

They, and we, scattered in the mayhem.

Running down alleyways as we breathed in the noxious tear gas, we fled pursued by police.

The protesters, mainly but not exclusively young men, regrouped and tried to continue their demonstrations calling for Colonel Gaddafi to stand down.

Eventually, and with the help of several local people, we were able to flee the area and avoid militia roadblocks on the way back to the relative calm of central Tripoli.

This still feels like a city under the overwhelming control of the Gaddafi regime (there were some pro-government protests today to prove the point) but Muammar Gaddafi's hold on his capital city may not be as strong as he likes to think.

The question is how far is he willing to go to hang on to power - and how determined are his opponents to expand beyond the confines of Tajoura into other parts of Tripoli?

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