Opposition Heads to Tripoli, Gadhafi’s Crackdown Escalating ‘Alarmingly’

BY Francine Uenuma  February 25, 2011 at 2:46 PM EDT

Updated 8 p.m. ET

Activist @libya_united spoke with the NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan about what he’s witnessing inside the country. “How can you live a normal life when you hear gunshots everywhere?” he said.

He also discussed what messages Gadhafi’s government is spreading, saying there is a “huge propaganda” effort underway:

Updated 5:30 p.m. ET

Rahma in Tripoli, who asked to only be identified by her first name, described the difference in the city after the government’s crackdown.

Tripoli normally looks like New York City or Los Angeles traffic-wise, but lately the streets have been empty, stores are closed, bakeries have long lines and people are eating only one meal a day because of food shortages, she said. “A lot of people are full of fear and confused.”

Hear more of her description:

Watch Friday’s U.N. Security Council meeting on violence in North Africa:

Updated 2:25 p.m. ET

Sreenivasan also spoke by telephone to Mari Bourhi in Benghazi, who described the difficulty he’s having communicating with relatives in Libya and the violence wracking the country as opponents of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are demanding he leave.

“The people took all of the area around Tripoli. Mr. Gadhafi now he is just about 10 km in the city center of Tripoli, nothing more,” said Bourhi, a 42-year-old oil worker.

He spoke of the foreign mercenaries who are being paid to kill Gadhafi opponents. “It’s not our army. It’s Mr. Gadhafi’s army,” he said. “We need help from America. We need help from Europe. We don’t have planes to fight, we don’t have guns to fight. We fight just by sticks or stones.”

You can listen to more of their conversation here:

Updated at 10:49 a.m. ET

The Libyan government’s crackdown on the opposition has escalated ‘alarmingly,‘ according to Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, as protesters converged on Tripoli’s Green Square, raising the specter of more violent clashes in the capital.

Anti-government elements and defecting army units control much of the eastern part of the country and have inched closer to Tripoli after clashes in Misrata and Zawiya.

The fighting between demonstrators and government forces marks the first major opposition move in Tripoli since Tuesday. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has vowed to stay in Libya, with the city of 2 million as his stronghold, but territory gains in other cities and high-level government defections have called into question the stability of his regime. Gadhafi has been in power for four decades.

Foreign governments continue to attempt evacuations of their citizens from Libya, although poor weather hampered ships trying to depart from Tripoli. President Obama has condemned the “bloodshed” and called on the government to acknowledge protesters’ demands. On Thursday he spoke with leaders from France, Italy and Britain to coordinate possible responses to the crisis. The U.N. has also floated the idea of a no-fly zone amid reports of warplanes targeting civilians and protester strongholds.

In an attempt to mollify public anger, the government announced via Libyan state television that it would offer each family $400 and increase the wages of state employees.

Protests in Tunisia and Egypt carried messages of support for demonstrators in their neighboring nation. Evacuees fleeing the violence have also crossed the land borders in recent days.

Gadhafi has remained defiant, blaming Osama bin Laden and hallucinogenic drugs for stirring up youth protesters. He also called on the mothers of the protesters to reign them in.

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