Pro-Gadhafi Libyans strut in Tripoli, critics cool

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 5:54 AM

BANI WALID, Libya -- The family of a Libyan soldier killed in an allied airstrike quickly listed all those they blame in his death - al-Qaida militants, Al-Jazeera television and "the Crusader conspiracy to divide Libya."

It mimicked nearly word for word the rhetoric that Moammar Gadhafi's state television has been using to explain the revolt that has engulfed the country. In public, where Gadhafi is in charge, people are on message.

The regime has been keeping up a drumbeat of propaganda in the Tripoli-centered west of the country under its control. Even so, some still whisper their opposition to the Libyan leader.

State-run newscasts are filled with conspiracy theories, like Western designs on Libyan oil and Gulf-funded al-Qaida militants out to divide the country. Libyan broadcasts call the allied air strikes Crusades, and callers on talk shows quickly blame Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, the Arabic language satellite TV channels, for boosting what they call militant gangs in the East, where the rebels are in control.

In between talk shows and newscasts, looped video of demonstrators at Gadhafi's residential compound at Bab Al-Aziziya are shown under a title reading, "Bab Al-Aziziya Now." Excerpts of Gadhafi's speeches calling rebels vermin and rats, promising to disinfect Libya street by street, alleyway by alleyway, act as bridges between revolutionary songs on Libyan state radio.

The leader's speeches have even become made into catchy songs that blare from supporters' cars and are even used as mobile phone ring tones.

With only Libyan state television and radio available in the country, the uncontested messages seem to be sinking in.

Fathi Abu Bakr, a soldier in Gadhafi's army, died in the conflict. In the small town of Bani Walid, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital, his family staged a tiny pro-Gadhafi rally for visiting journalists on Wednesday in the small front yard of their simple home.

Abu Bakr's family said the soldier was killed in a French air strike on Saturday in Benghazi, leaving behind a wife and two children, who moved back to her family's hometown.

"I am very happy he was martyred fighting the people who are trying to divide our country," said his aunt, Nooreya Mouftah. "They are all militants from Afghanistan, Egypt and Tunisia."

When pressed on how she knew the rebels were not Libyans, Mouftah looked puzzled. It's just a known fact, she told reporters, clutching a picture of a smiling Gadhafi in military uniform.

Last week her family was given a brand new AK-47 assault rifle by the government to protect themselves from rebels. Mouftah grabbed the gun and fired it in the air, posing for the journalists' cameras.

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