Libyan rebels struggle to win over pro-Gaddafi town

Supporters of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi take                                                                                                                                                                             part in a rally in the town of Al-Ajaylat July 14 2011

By , Published: September 8

AJAYLAT, Libya — Sitting on a carpet under the shade of a tree, the men say they know where Moammar Gaddafi is today — and where he will always be.

“He is in our hearts,” they say, almost in unison, tapping their chests with their right hands.

Two weeks ago, almost every house in the town of Ajaylat, a Gaddafi stronghold about 50 miles west of Tripoli, flew the green flag of the autocrat’s regime. Today, those flags have been taken down, but the rebels’ red, black and green banner flies over only a handful of government buildings.Pro-Gaddafi graffiti have been painted over, but they have not been replaced with the slogans of the revolution. Shop shutters are still uniformly green, and — unlike in other towns — no one appears to be searching for red and black paint to convert them.“In this area, only about 10 percent of people are against Gaddafi,” said Khamis, a 45-year-old businessman, who, like many people here, preferred not to give his family name so he could speak more freely. “Ninety percent are pro-Gaddafi. But at the moment we are in our homes, worried and afraid about what is going on.”Ajaylat was “liberated” by Libyan rebels at the beginning of this month, about 10 days after the fall of Tripoli. Earnest young men from the town have formed a new city council and say they are working hard to win people’s trust.But support for Gaddafi and his government runs deep in Ajaylat. Several senior Gaddafi officials come from the conservative, close-knit community, which is poorer and less cosmopolitan than other towns and cities along the coast where the rebellion has prospered. And the way rebel fighters behaved when they stormed the town did nothing to help their cause. Residents say houses of some leading Gaddafi sympathizers were looted or burned, weapons were seized at gunpoint and government cars were confiscated.

“This is not a peaceful revolution,” said Khalifa Omar Musbah, 61, a farmer who said his two sons were killed when they refused to give up their weapons. “A revolution should be peaceful and bring a better system of government, not just guns.”

The rebels’ problems in winning over the people of Ajaylat are a microcosm of the even larger problems they are likely to face as they prepare to move into the Gaddafi strongholds of Sirte, Bani Walid and Jufra, which lie to the east of Tripoli.

On Thursday, Gaddafi loyalists in Bani Walid fired at least 10 rockets toward rebel lines. Rebels who have converged on Bani Walid say several key Gaddafi loyalists, possibly including one or two of his sons, are being sheltered there.

Another message from Gaddafi

Meanwhile, the former Libyan leader issued another defiant audio message to a Syrian television channel, vowing to remain in Libya to fight on, calling his opponents “mercenaries, thugs and traitors” and dismissing reports that he was fleeing toward neighboring African states.

“We are ready to start the fight in Tripoli and everywhere else and rise up against them,” Gaddafi said in the message. “All of these germs, rats and scumbags — they are not Libyans. Ask anyone. They have cooperated with NATO.”

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