Africa
3:51 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

The Scene In Tripoli: Rebels, Snipers, Chaos

The Libyan rebels may have stormed into Tripoli on a wave of euphoria Sunday. But they were watchful and deliberate Monday as they realized that Moammar Gadhafi's armed loyalists were still a dangerous presence in many parts of the Libyan capital.

In one contested area, a rebel with a megaphone shouted warnings to his comrades: "Be careful of snipers. The city is not clear yet. Be alert."

But most rebels didn't need to be told. They were already jumpy coming into Tripoli, the grand prize in the rebels' six-month uprising against Gadhafi and his 42 years of rule.

When one Tripoli resident came out on the streets carrying a gun, he was immediately surrounded by the advancing rebels who were suspicious that the man might be a Gadhafi supporter.

The rebels demanded that people in the neighborhood vouch for him. When they did, the rebels let him go.

Rebels Seek Order On The Streets

Shooting was reported in several parts of the city, and most residents remained in their homes. Rebel Abu Bakr says his fellow fighters were under orders to secure the streets and prevent looting.

"We are not getting inside houses," he said. Bakr and his colleagues said the rebels want to keep order on the streets and make sure that government buildings remain intact, and they hope to preserve the city's infrastructure so that life can return to normal after the rebels stage a formal takeover.

But that day did not seem imminent.

In one area, residents pointed to the corpse of a government soldier who was lying in the middle street, covered with a blanket. It was possible to retrace the final moments of his life by following his bloody steps. You could see his blood splattered on the wall where he was shot. He then staggered several hundred feet before he collapsed in the road.

At a women's military academy in the center of the city, rebels who had marched into the capital from the Western mountains set up their base. The rebels were initially optimistic based on their recent run of battlefield triumphs.

"Maybe in the coming hours everything will be solved," said one fighter. He said the rebels might soon go to Green Square, the symbolic center of the city. The rebels and their supporters have already renamed it Martyrs Square, and it was the scene of celebrations Sunday night. But on Monday, it was no longer firmly under rebel control and was considered too dangerous to visit.

New Rebel Base Under Attack

It turned out the rebels were not even safe at the military academy. Gadhafi loyalists launched an attack against the newly established rebel base.

Anti-aircraft guns tore into the compound, wounding several people and setting ablaze a car belonging to one journalist. The rebels responded by firing wildly, and an extended firefight broke out.

Running street battles also erupted in residential neighborhoods, just a few streets away from where the rebels had set up checkpoints.

In the western part of the city, young men crouched down on street corners, taking aim at what they said were pro-Gadhafi snipers in the area. A mortar punched a hole in one nearby house.

Another house was converted into a makeshift clinic, with the injured arriving thick and fast. Boxes of medical supplies sat on a beige carpet smeared brown with blood. Injured men were on the floor, on sofa cushions in the living room, their wounds patched efficiently by volunteer doctors.

Clinic Operates In Secret

This secret clinic has been running for weeks, treating members of sleeper cells that have been operating in the city.

A doctor who declined to give her name says Tripoli hospitals have been under the control of Gadhafi forces, and opposition fighters were worried they would be arrested if they showed up wounded.

Residents here had hoped that with the large rebel force reaching the city, that would change. But the makeshift clinic was busier than ever.

People here say they are still afraid. Some refused to have their voices recorded or give their names.

Back near the rebel base, Tripoli residents brought a truck to smash a billboard featuring Gadhafi. After it came down, the people ripped it up and stomped on it. But it will take more than symbolic acts of rage to rid Tripoli of Gadhafi's armed supporters.

The fight for the capital, some fear, has only begun.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.