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Libyan city no longer ruled by Kadafi, but protests continue

Residents -- not Moammar Kadafi's regime -- now rule the eastern city of Derna, but they're still demonstrating against the Libyan leader.

February 23, 2011|By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
  • Residents of Derna celebrate in the main square after driving out forces loyal to dictator Moammar Kadafi.
Residents of Derna celebrate in the main square after driving out forces… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Derna, Libya — Days after the police were run out of town or joined the revolution, the police station was burned down and its files strewn on charred ground, residents of this coastal Libyan city still are on the streets protesting Moammar Kadafi's regime.

Like other cities in eastern Libya, residents have taken control of Derna, a city of about 100,000 people overlooking the Mediterranean Sea six hours from the Egyptian border. Male civilians patrol and direct traffic, keeping an eye on who is coming through.

"After we saw what Moammar has done, it's impossible for us to surrender, because we know what they will do to us," said Amer Habiel, 36. "We are not ready to surrender; we will die."

On Sunday, when soldiers in planes and armored vehicles arrived at an airport in Labrak, about 45 miles away, airport employees began calling men in neighboring cities to surround the facility to prevent them from attacking, said Jalal Abdullah, 41, a Derna resident.

For three days, said Faraj Saad, a police officer who defected, more than 200 men -- who had armed themselves with weapons from police stations and army barracks they'd raided -- engaged in a firefight with the military that left scores of civilians and soldiers dead.

Six men from Derna were among the dead. Five others, ages 12 to 21, who were shot during protests are buried in fresh graves by a courtyard in the Prophet's Companions Mosque. At a hospital just a few miles away there are more bodies, residents said.

Some of the soldiers were captured and about 20 were held in a large room of the mosque for a few days before being moving to a location farther away, said Ashraf Sadaga, a member of the Prophet's Companions Committee, which oversees the area. The location is secret and the soldiers are being protected from the wrath of the city's residents, he said.

On the road in front of the mosque and a makeshift hospital, people have held protests since Feb. 17.

"Now the protest is for expression," Sadaga said. "The uprising is over, eastern Libya has all fallen from Kadafi's power."

Wednesday, protesters chanted, "The martyrs' place is heaven, Kadafi is not for us." One young man held a sign saying, "Oh Kadafi, congratulations. The people have dug your grave."

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, where men and women protested together, women are largely absent from the streets in this part of the country. Only men gathered Wednesday afternoon.

Hani Fadallah, 35, a radio sports reporter, said he was fired from his job seven months ago when Kadafi's soccer team came to the city to play and he didn't cover the game. He recalled the novelty of speaking freely on the radio.

Away from the city center, several government buildings were burned, including the police station. On the second day of protests after Friday prayers, men set fire to the police station. Graffiti scrawled on the outer walls called for Kadafi's resignation.

"It was a peaceful people's revolution that was faced with violence," Fadallah said. "If you are faced with violence, you will respond with violence."

Saad, the police officer, said he stayed on the job the first day of the protests, but once he saw the killing of innocent people, he left. Many other officers, he said, left as well.

"We joined the people," he said. "I changed my police uniform and put on civilian clothing, and joined the people."

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