Troubled Tripoli and a ticket out

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December 7th 2013
Published: December 13th 2013
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Before we made the decision to go to Libya, we thought long and hard about the security situation over there. From our research we concluded that the city of Tripoli seemed to be ok but it was unlikely we would get out of the city very much. The situation began to decline not long after we arrived and it reached a low on November 15th. At least 47 people were killed when the militia men in Gargour opened fire on a peaceful demonstration. The number of injured was estimated to be 500 and the city's hospitals struggled to cope with the casualties from the massacre. Demonstrations continued for two weeks afterwards and a general strike was called. For one week we had no classes but were unable to get out and about because of the security situation.

It was strange that on that fateful day we had taken a taxi into Tripoli expecting him to route towards the East of the city because we knew there could be trouble. Instead he took us straight through the area and our journey was hampered by roadblocks and u-turning cars. There was very little life in the city, but that's not unusual on a Friday morning. We admired some of the architecture around the Tripoli Towers area where the British Embassy is located, then went to the Corinthia Hotel where we enjoyed a pot of tea. It all seemed so quiet until the first explosions were heard and the hotel's security team suddenly sprang to life. At one stage a fighter jet patrolled the skies. Rather than stay in town for dinner we decided to head home, and a good job too because all hell broke loose that afternoon.

The following Monday was OUR worst day. With classes cancelled we went down the road to visit the other teachers and to use their washing machine. On our way back we were approaching the traffic lights at the main Salah Aldeen junction when we heard gunfire all around us. The local Misrata brigade were evacuating their base and leaving the city, and the local residents were determined to see them leave. It was horrible. A friendly office worker ushered us into his place along with a group of Libyan women. The metal shutters were lowered and we waited for the situation outside to calm down. About 30 minutes later the man went out and spoke to the police. We were told to leave and to make our way swiftly home. Needless to say we did not dawdle! Once home it all kicked off again and we could hear gunfire and explosions all around our compound. It seemed to go on forever but it probably only lasted an hour. Later on our friend came to pick us up so we could retrieve our washing! It seemed so peaceful walking home in the dark, but we were a little more wary than normal. Armed police and soldiers were now at every junction and they saw us safely home.

That was the last of the gunfire and explosions for us, although the Libyan obsession with fireworks did set the pulse racing from time to time. It did seem though, that the events of November 15 resulted in Tripoli's citizens and its somewhat ineffective government saying that enough is enough. All non-Tripoli militias were ordered to leave the city and that's pretty much what we got caught up in on the Monday. The withdrawal looks to have gone ahead relatively peacefully and the militia have been replaced by police and army in brand new uniforms on
"Flame of the Capital""Flame of the Capital""Flame of the Capital"

Tripoli's version of Berlin's East Side Gallery
every major junction. Where were these people when it was like a war zone? According to one newspaper report, it wasn't safe for them to be on the streets. Great. That filled us with so much confidence!!

As a result of the militia pull out, life seemed a lot safer. Taxis got in and out of town with relative ease and we even felt that we could stay in town into the evenings. That meant we finally got to eat in some of the restaurants we had wanted to visit. The most notable is the one by the Marcus Aurelius arch where we feasted on jarra, clay pots baked in the oven then smashed open in front of you by the waiter. The baby camel was delicious, as was the lamb. We also finally found our way to the Indian but alcohol free beer just isn't the same with a curry!

One more thing of note in Tripoli is the graffiti. Close to the site of the Gargour massacre is a long wall of graffiti emblazoned with the motif "Flame of the Capital". A bemused taxi driver dropped us off at the start of the wall and we walked along the central reservation admiring the artwork and taking photos. Almost every car that went by honked at us and we were never sure if they were praising us for being there or saying that we shouldn't. In Berlin parts of the wall have been preserved as the East Side gallery and we like to think that someone will have the foresight to do that here too. Our walk then took us to the small but impressive Al Quds Mosque where the main protest on November 15 began. Opposite is the wigwam building which we believe was Ghadaffi's Green Book Library. It's one big ruin now, not as a result of NATO bombs as we had originally thought, but bulldozed by the municipality because of the regime it represented.

So that was it for Tripoli and us. It certainly was an interesting 5 weeks but we are pleased to have returned to Spain now. In our last week we had to endure many lengthy power cuts and fuel shortages thanks to panic buying were beginning to bite hard and cause outbreaks of violence. At the time this blog was published, a friend's son had been queuing for 24 hours and had yet to reach the front. Also, we were mightily relieved when the proposed Air Traffic Control strike was called off as it would have coincided with our departure date!

For those interested in some further reading, here are some interesting links thanks to The Libya Herald, one of our main sources of information (along with Twitter) during some very dark days.

Ghargour Massacre

Ghargour Massacre - an eyewitness account

Phew! Controllers are not going on strike

Blackouts to continue throughout December

Petrol Crisis Spreads

Additional photos below
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13th December 2013
A city in mourning

A city in mourning
There's something about being where history takes place. Great blog...glad you are safe and could share it with us.
13th December 2013

What an amazing experience...
but I'll bet your glad to be back in Spain.
13th December 2013

Russ, I admire your nerve in going to Tripoli in the first place, and you must have been one of very few Westerners other than CIA or British intelligence. I think I\\\'d mentioned to you that a couple of mates of mine worked in Tripoli in 1980 and regaled me with regime horror stories, such as being turfed out of their hotel in the middle of the night because \\\"The Colonel\\\" wanted to crash for the night. Every room in every hotel was required to have a large photo of Ghaddafi, together with a Green Book by the side of the bed. When my buds removed the book, they got grassed up, and the Security services called in. They thought that they were going to dragged off to jail, but somehow it didn\\\'t happen. They were working on a large refrigerated warehouse, installing the cooling system. The workforce were all Libyans, and totally useless. One day, the Security people showed up, dragged one them away, and he never came back. One day they decided to do some sight seeing, and found themselves in front of one of the Colonels many compounds, and the gates were open. One of my mates was an avid photographer, and trained his camera at the people within hoping to get a shot of the Colonel..instead he found himself looking at \\\"Carlos the Jackal\\\" who was holed up.....Security forces surrounded them, and smashed his very expensive camera, and started lashing out at them with canes. Fortunately they were able to drive away without further escalation. The other incident that I recall, was when one of the guys was invited to visit the Aramco base which was a huge presence, and officially US territory. Needless to say, there was booze on the premises, and he spent a few hours at the bar. On his way home in a cab, they were stopped by Security and he had to make a run for it, as if they\\\'d detected booze on his breath he would received 100 lashes or worse. So he ran for his life through the back streets of Tripoli, being chased by the Security boys. Being a Brighton lad, he was very resourceful, and ended up hiding in a dumpster of sorts, & covered himself with trash. He eventually found his way back to the hotel, and there were no repercussions. I had the opportunity to join them but in view of the stories, declined their offer, as I knew I\\\'d get myself in serious trouble....inevitable with me.... Makes going to a Palace away game a piece of cake!! Glad you made it out safe and sound. What a fucked up country it seems to be declining into.
14th December 2013
The Green Book Library lies in ruin

Excellent adventure!
Now, these are real travel tales! Good for you two for making the leap of faith and going where few dare to tread! Glad you made it out safely though so sad to see books and a library taking a hit for ideology's sake. Hope your students pass their exams and are flying high.

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