5:59pm

Wed August 24, 2011
Conflict In Libya

Libyan Rebels Struggle To Impose Order On Tripoli

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:30 am

Packed into cars and pickup trucks, Libya's rebels honked their horns and fired into the air as they paraded through Tripoli's central square on Wednesday in a show of force and celebration.

Some fighters deliberately targeted the ancient stone walls of the old city that flank the square — apparently because Moammar Gadhafi used the ramparts as a podium while giving speeches. And everyone is now calling it Martyrs Square, rather than Green Square, which was Gadhafi's term.

Despite this display, Tripoli remains chaotic as the rebels still try to secure the city. They claim control of most of the capital, but they still face pockets of resistance in several areas, including one large neighborhood near the airport.

Driving through Green Square, Najua Omar Mohammed says her mother lives in a neighborhood still controlled by Gadhafi loyalists in the south of the city. Young men with guns are everywhere in the neighborhood, known as Abu Salim, she says.

The rebels say they are planning an assault on the area.

Rebels Face New Challenges

In the meantime, they are also facing the challenge of providing security in the parts of the city they control. What is emerging is a confusing array of armed groups who are either fighting or acting as neighborhood watch patrols.

In one area near Green Square, men drag away a makeshift barricade studded with nails to let a car pass. They are checking identification documents, making sure the neighborhood is safe.

But Tripoli resident Nasser Juwaida says there is little coordination right now, and it's not really clear who among the rebels is in charge.

Juwaida says many people are running around on the streets saying, "I'm the boss, I'm the boss." And yet, he adds, "everybody is afraid now, even though they are happy, they are so happy, nobody wants [Gadhafi]. But nobody is relaxed."

Rumors Abound

Gadhafi's whereabouts are still unknown, and there are frequent rumors that his loyalists are carrying out acts of sabotage.

At one shop, everyone is buying bottled water. Tap water has been shut off in this area, which many say is just as well. One rumor is that Gadhafi supporters have poisoned the municipal water supply.

Rabia Mohammed, 35, says she's drinking well water only. She says food is an issue as well. There's been nothing coming into Tripoli for 10 days so people are surviving on what they have in their cabinets.

A young woman who declined to give her name says despite the hardships, things are better here now than before. A missile destroyed her house during the fighting, and pro-Gadhafi militias were patrolling her street constantly, she says.

In the east of Libya, Gadhafi and his security forces lost control months ago. But in Tripoli, most residents have just begun to experience life without Gadhafi, who seized power in 1969.

Juwaida, the Tripoli resident, says this is the first time he's ever dared say what he thinks.

"I talk about the freedom because I felt it now," he says. "For 42 years, imagine, someone is spending your money and you are dying of hunger." In the past, he says, you feared that even your own brother might inform on you.

Life remains difficult, he says, but then he offers up the rallying cry of this uprising: "We are free."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.