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Libyan Protester: ‘I’m Prepared to Die to Get My Freedom’

March 4, 2011 at 10:09 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The day’s other major story, of course, was Libya.

Gadhafi forces tried to retake a key town west of Tripoli. Witnesses said artillery fire killed at least 18 people. And hundreds of protesters tried to march from a mosque in Tajura, a district on the eastern edge of the Libyan capital.

We have two reports from Independent Television News, beginning with this one by Jonathan Rugman.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: It was after Friday prayers that the trouble began, Libyans in Tajura, east of the capital, daring to express their hatred of Gadhafi in the sanctuary of their mosque.

“‘Moammar Gadhafi is the enemy of God,’ they shouted, holding aloft the flag of the king the colonel deposed 41 years ago. Then, several hundred marched to Tajura’s square, copying the protests which toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

But Libya is different. This is just one district, and it is surrounded by police and army checkpoints. Young men have been taken away for questioning in the last few days, and nobody here would risk speaking on camera.

This demonstration shows that the rebellion against Colonel Gadhafi is continuing on the outskirts of Tripoli. But it doesn’t mean that Gadhafi is about to be deposed anytime soon, because much of the capital lives in a climate of fear. 

MAN: Being picked up last night from one house, six brothers, that was about 3:00 in the morning. So, basically, we are living in fear day in, day out. You cannot walk out at night, absolutely. You cannot walk out…

JONATHAN RUGMAN: So this is unusual? 

MAN: This is unusual. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN: And it didn’t last long. Soon after the police tear gas came the sound of rubber bullets. Last week, they were shooting protesters here dead. These pictures were given to us today. We can’t verify them, but they were filmed by the protesters themselves. 

Are people prepared to die? 

MAN: Yes, they are. They are totally prepared to die. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Are you frightened? 

MAN: No, at all. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Are you prepared to die? 

MAN: I am prepared to die to get my freedom. 

JONATHAN RUGMAN: No sooner was today’s protest in Tajura dispersed than a pro-Gadhafi demonstration began, though the protesters had apparently been bused in. This is a city in virtual lockdown, the explosions of anger we witnessed today few and far between. 

JUDY WOODRUFF: In eastern Libya, the rebels tried to expand their territory today. They advanced from Brega and attacked the oil port of Ras Lanuf. Late in the day, they claimed they had taken the city 380 miles from Tripoli. 

And, in the west, the flood of refugees into Tunisia slowed drastically. 

Emma Murphy has that part of the story. 

EMMA MURPHY: The thousands are now the few, and the area between Tunisia and Libya is deserted. The question that remains unanswered is, why? Have those wishing to leave done so, or are they being prevented from doing so? 

Just days ago, this was the scene as 200,000 passed through the border gate. Yet, that changed within hours, and the speed of that change has worried many. 

ANDREW MITCHELL, International Development Secretary, United Kingdom: How long have you been here for? 

MAN: Seven days. 

ANDREW MITCHELL: Seven days? 

MAN: Yes. 

ANDREW MITCHELL: So, you came across the border seven days ago?

MAN: Yes. 

EMMA MURPHY: As he visited the border camp where many of the migrants are now housed, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell revealed satellite images are now being analyzed for holding camps on the Libyan side of the border. 

ANDREW MITCHELL: Well, I’m very concerned, because it didn’t slow down, so it’s an artificial and abrupt stop. We have no idea why that is. We’re trying to find out, but, at any moment, the number could increase very substantially. 

EMMA MURPHY: The Libyan regime know that images of thousands waiting for shelter in Tunisia are damaging to their claims that life inside the country is calm. Many of those who did get through tell of beatings and attacks carried out by those loyal to the Gadhafi regime. 

MAN: Everything that Libya (INAUDIBLE)

EMMA MURPHY: They took absolutely everything you had, your money, your phone, your laptop, and everything you brought? 

MAN: Yes, yes. 

EMMA MURPHY: Because the number of people coming through this border dropped off, it meant the Tunisian authorities were able to avoid the predicted humanitarian crisis. But there is a real fear on the part of the international community that there is another humanitarian crisis unfolding just a short distance down the road behind me. 

JIM LEHRER: An international airlift continued taking aid into Tunisia and bringing out evacuees. Two U.S. military transport planes joined that operation today. They flew in from Germany with loads of blankets, water and other relief supplies. 

In Washington, Senator John McCain pressed again for a no-fly zone. But he said Pentagon leaders are unsure about what’s happening in Libya. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R- Ariz.) : When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says that he has no sign of attacks from the air on the citizenry, and, of course, we see then shortly thereafter film of that happening, and then, obviously, I would assume they’re not completely up to speed.