Pressure mounts on Gadhafi within Libya's capital

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 12 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, May 4, 2011 picture Ramzy Elshahiebi, 39, extracts elements of a mine while working to assemble home made bombs in Benghazi, Libya. Ramzy Elshahiebi, use to fish with dynamite and so knows the assembly of bombs that serve the rebel army fighting against Moammar Gadhafi troops.

Rodrigo Abd, Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya — Pressure is mounting on Moammar Gadhafi from within his stronghold in the Libyan capital, with increasing NATO airstrikes and worsening shortages of fuel and goods. An activist said Friday that there has also been a wave of anti-government protests in several Tripoli neighborhoods this week — dissent that in the past has been met with zero tolerance and brutal force.

Gadhafi's rebel opposition, meanwhile, received major political boosts from abroad. Britain promised to provide them with police gear, and the Obama administration invited a rebel delegation to the White House for talks on Friday.

Highlighting the pressure, the sound of two NATO strikes could be heard early Friday. It was not immediately clear what they targeted. They followed a round of NATO airstrikes early Thursday that hit Gadhafi's fortified compound in Tripoli. Just hours beforehand, the Libyan leader had appeared on state TV for the first time since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago. Before his appearance, rumors swirled that he had been killed or injured.

Reporters were shown the airstrike damage by Libyan officials, including one who said Gadhafi and his family had moved away from the Bab al-Aziziya compound some time ago. One missile appeared to have targeted some sort of underground bunker at the compound — a sprawling complex of buildings surrounded by towering concrete blast walls.

NATO, which has hit the Libyan capital repeatedly this week, said Thursday's attack successfully hit "a large command and control bunker complex in downtown Tripoli that was used to coordinate attacks against civilian populations."

Early on Friday, an anti-government activist in the Libyan capital said there had been protests this week in at least three neighborhoods in the capital, accompanied by exchanges of gunfire between opposition activists and Gadhafi forces.

He said he saw in one neighborhood, Fashloum, there were soldiers flooding the area and were patrolling the streets in vehicles. He said he did not personally see a demonstration there but heard from other activists that there was a brief gunbattle in that area.

The sharp cracking sound of gunfire could be heard in a separate neighborhood close to the hotel where reporters must reside.

The activist's report echoed those made earlier to The Associated Press by a local journalist and resident on Thursday. All spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals.

Reporters cannot independently confirm the information because they may not leave their Tripoli hotel without government minders.

When residents of Tripoli tried to protest against Gadhafi earlier in the uprising, gunmen in speeding cars tore through and fired wildly into the crowds, making many fearful to go out in the streets and demonstrate.

The activist said residents are deeply frustrated by a severe fuel shortage that forces some motorists to spend up to three days in line at gas stations. His report echoed what is clearly visible to reporters when they are shipped around on buses.

The price of black market fuel had reached 100 dinars for 5 gallons (20 liters) of gas — in comparison to the government price of 3 dinar for the same amount. The government sells gas for 15 Libyan cents a liter.

He added there were sharp shortages in medicines and the price of some basic foods had doubled and tripled in price. The activist gave the example of a cholesterol medicine which was no longer available in Tripoli, and asthma medicine that doubled in price to 60 Libyan dinars. He said the price of vegetable oil quadrupled from less than one dinar to four, and the price of pasta — a Libyan staple — also rose from half a dinar to 2 dinars.

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