Libya crisis: Defiance in Tripoli despite rebel advance

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Media captionAs rebels fight for key towns near Tripoli, there is still strong support for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli's Green Square

Rebels are closing in on the Libyan capital after a series of advances. Fighting continues to the west and south of Tripoli, with government troops trying to take back lost ground. In the capital itself, though, the BBC's Matthew Price finds little obvious sign of unease.

It is close to midnight, as a light breeze blows in from across the Mediterranean, ruffling the palm trees in Tripoli's Green Square.

Under the inky black sky, the square is bustling. Pro-Gaddafi music blares, distorting through old speakers.

A young boy leans out of the front passenger window of a car, the green flag of Col Gaddafi's Libya fluttering proudly in his hands as it drives past.

And 23-year-old Omar Alia Rohoma is kissing a photograph of his leader.

"I love you," he exclaims.

You would not know - in central Tripoli - that there is a war on.

'Father for all Libyans'

The back window of Omar Rohoma's car is completely filled with a picture of Col Gaddafi and one of his sons.

Image caption Gaddafi loyalists receive certificates for attending weapons training courses

"He is a father for all Libyans," says the young driver. "He is good."

Is he worried about a rebel advance on the capital?

"No. As you see all people are happy. We are secure and safe. No-one is worried about the rebels. It's all lies."

It is not unexpected to get such a response in Green Square - pictures of Col Gaddafi hang around the entire place; green flags fly.

Government minders stand close by as people are questioned by journalists.

It would be wrong, though, to dismiss the support that clearly exists here for the current leadership. An intelligence official, captured by the rebels at the weekend, estimated that 70% of the population of Tripoli backs Col Gaddafi.

Many are willing to fight for him too.

'Morale is high'

Government officials say weapons training is widespread - for loyalists of course. This week Col Gaddafi used an audio broadcast to call on his supporters to rise up and crush the rebels and Nato.

Sabah Mustafa Mohammed Ibrahim proudly shows off a certificate that reads she "completed weapons and resistance training, June 19th to 29th, in small arms".

She is probably about 45 years old and speaks with passion and conviction.

"I'm ready to take up a gun," she says. "I will defend my country, and Muammar who has done so much good for us."

In a cafe, Salem Amer heats milk before expertly skimming the froth off the top over two espressos.

He shakes his head, and smiles wisely when asked about Tripoli's fate.

"Morale is high," he says. "We are fine, thanks to God."

A woman waiting quietly at the counter has a different view.

"I'm worried," she says, almost in a whisper. "I don't want colonialism to return. I'm worried about Nato."

War taking its toll

There is a belief in Tripoli that Nato is attempting to take over Libya. The government line is that Nato is acting beyond its mandate to protect civilians.

Certainly its air strikes have helped the rebel advances in recent days. Without Nato, the opposition would not be in such a strong position.

Nato maintains that its action is designed to protect civilians from pro-Gaddafi forces.

What is hard to assess is how widespread the outwardly upbeat mood is in Tripoli.

The Libyan government insists its people are resilient, yet months of sanctions and war are taking their toll.

Planning to leave

Power cuts have become a daily occurrence in the capital, though there are signs of that improving in recent days.

Still, many homes and businesses are without electricity - and therefore water, which relies on pumps - for much of the day.

Image caption Gaddafi loyalists in Tripoli say that morale is high in the Libyan capital

The lack of fuel has been well documented. Doctors talk of a lack of oxygen and working equipment in the hospitals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said recently that there is a lack of "vaccines, medicine, and other medical items".

Quietly, some talk of making preparations to leave the city.

Others though, in Green Square, report the opposite - telling journalists that families are arriving in Tripoli having fled areas outside the capital where fighting is taking place.

The rebels have always maintained that if they can reach Tripoli, then opposition supporters across the city will rise up and help defeat Col Gaddafi.

It does not feel that clear-cut in Green Square.

If the members of Nato are hoping the events of the past few days herald the beginning of the end of this war, they may be in for a nasty surprise.