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Gaddafi still commands support

To all outward appearances, this is a city deeply enamoured of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. His portrait hangs from lampposts, adorns shopping centers and sprouts from the gleaming new office blocks rising from the seafront.

world Updated: Mar 26, 2011 00:26 IST

To all outward appearances, this is a city deeply enamoured of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. His portrait hangs from lampposts, adorns shopping centers and sprouts from the gleaming new office blocks rising from the seafront. Sayings from his Green Book, required reading for all schoolchildren, are posted in government buildings, including public restrooms.

And his supporters, draped in Gaddafi green and clutching pictures of their beloved leader, noisily and passionately assert their presence in near round-the-clock displays of devotion. Hurtling through the streets in pickups or gathering in Tripoli's central Green Square, they bellow the rhythmic chant that encapsulates the omnipotence of Gaddafi's self-ascribed role: "God, Muammar, Libya: Enough!"

How deep that support runs in a populace that has been governed by fear for decades is impossible to tell. But six days into the allied bombardment of Libyan military targets, it is clear that Gaddafi can count on the fierce loyalties of at least a significant segment of the population in the vast stretches that lie beyond the enclave of rebel-held territory in the east.

"We don't want anyone except him," gushed Fatima al-Mishai, 20, who joined the crowds assembled at Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound to offer their services as voluntary human shields against the bombs. "He gave us freedom and everything we need."

Indeed, the Libyan government has kept average incomes relatively high, while doling out generous social benefits, including health care and education. Even Gaddafi's opponents, who dare murmur their dissent only out of earshot of regime loyalists, concede that the man who has governed Libya for nearly 42 years does command genuine support.

(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post)