As the U.S. 6th Fleet pulled away today from waters claimed by Libya, the government of Col. Muammar Qaddafi remained silent about the extent of casualties during clashes with U.S. forces. But there were indications that more than 30 Libyans may have died.
On Monday, according to reports from Madrid and from diplomats here today, the Spanish oil tanker Castillo de Ricote rescued 16 survivors from a Libyan missile-carrying patrol boat blasted by the U.S. fleet that morning. Two of the survivors were reported seriously wounded. The rest of the 28-man crew were presumed dead.
The Pentagon has said that two Libyan gunboats were destroyed, and the fate of two others that were attacked was unknown.
One Middle Eastern diplomat here told reporters today that his sources had learned that 37 Libyans were killed in the engagements with the United States, most or all of them on the high seas.
But the Libyan press has told the Libyan people nothing of this. To the extent that negative information has reached them, shopkeepers and students interviewed on the streets say, it came from radio reports by the British Broadcasting Corp. or the Voice of America.
The official press here makes no mention of Libyan casualties and continues to proclaim the engagement as Libyan victories in which three U.S. warplanes were downed -- an assertion denied by Washington.
Tonight, the state radio declared that the Libyan people had "scored a glittering victory over the imperialist invaders of the gulf of death," United Press International reported. The radio said Libyans had "risen to the level of being a match for a superpower, the United States of America, which they fought and triumphed over."
The usually loquacious Qaddafi, meanwhile, remained silent despite the presence of more than 200 international journalists waiting to record his words.
As one diplomat put it, Qaddafi has created a "Catch-22" when it comes to addressing the facts of the week's events. Having declared a line across the mouth of the Gulf of Sidra a "line of death" for the United States, it proved quickly to be a deadly trap for his own forces.
"He was saying all the time nobody would dare cross," said the diplomat. "Everybody crossed."
This weekend, at the anniversary of the British military departure from Libya in 1970, Qaddafi is expected to address a rally, but now he appears to be biding his time.
No official recognition has been made here that the U.S. fleet is withdrawing, nor has there been any announcement of Libyan naval exercises with live ammunition that international shipping sources reportedly had been warned would take place this weekend.
Meanwhile, the reporters who have filled the city's biggest hotel find themselves with little to do. They mill around in the lobby of the Grande Hotel, waiting endlessly for a Qaddafi press conference that has yet to happen. Trips outside the hotel are actively discouraged by Information Ministry employes and security men in the lobby -- referred to by journalists as "minders" -- who usually insist on accompanying journalists who do leave the building.
While inconspicuous print reporters can sometimes skirt the strictures, equipment-laden television crews and photographers cannot. They must make written requests to film anything on the street.
The minders go with them, sometimes suggesting that their presence is needed to protect the cameramen from an angry populace. The TV correspondents' reports are often blacked out in any sections the Libyan official at the satellite transmission station considers objectionable.
The most common deletions in recent days, network crews said, were of film that showed small crowds at staged demonstrations.
On the streets, few people are willing to talk openly and most who do talk repeat the government's line about the injustice of American actions toward this country specifically and the Arab world generally.
A constant, irritated question they pose to reporters: "Why don't you tell the truth about Libya?"