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Tripoli a ghost town after a month of rebellion

world Updated: Mar 22, 2011 22:37 IST

"We're as tough as copper," says an engraver of the metal in Tripoli's old city, which is now all but deserted after more than a month of Libya's bloody uprising.

The Medina, the commercial heart of the capital, resembles a ghost town, and the few passers-by tend to dodge questions from reporters with a simple and polite "excuse me."

Those who do respond are generally apologists for embattled leader Moamer Gaddafi.

The authorities have laid on a guided tour of the city to demonstrate to the international press that "all is well" in Tripoli, four days into a campaign by an international coalition enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone in the country.

In the vehicle carrying the journalists, however, the official guide's silence speaks volumes: "Don't ask me anything, I'm just obeying orders."

In Green Square, which since the outbreak of the revolt on February 14 has become a meeting place for pro-Gaddafi activists, a small group of men gathers while loudspeakers praise the glory of the "Guide of the Revolution" and his 42-year rule.

In the Medina, which just five weeks ago was abuzz with activity, Mohammed, who is in his 60s, is working on a copper plate.

"We are as tough as copper," he tells the throng of journalists before clamming up when asked about the coalition air raids. "Sorry, I don't understand these stories," he says.

"I'm scared," interjects one of the few passers-by, a man in his forties. "Look at your chaperones," he adds, in reference to the four minders escorting the dozen or so journalists.

"As you can see, the Medina is dead. It's finished. But anyway, it can't be worse than before," he adds daringly when asked to one side about the success of the coalition's intervention.

Most people on the street refuse to talk to the press, offering an embarrassed "excuse me" or toeing the Gaddafi party line about insurgent "rats" in the east and pledging their allegiance to the leader.

Gaddafi "isn't a dictator," says Ali, a Tripoli resident in his thirties. "He's the best president in the Arab world. The only problem is that he stashed all the money in Italy. Now there's nothing left for us."

"Look, this road hasn't even been asphalted," he adds.

Late on Monday, members of the international press corps in a Tripoli hotel, who are forbidden to leave without an official minder ("for security reasons," officials say) heard a massive blast seemingly from the direction of Khadafi's residence.

On another guided tour on Sunday night, they had witnessed a residential building complex destroyed by a missile.

On Tuesday, the authorities promised the press a visit to the port of Shaab, which was bombed on Monday night, three kilometres (two miles) from Green Square.

The trip at least offered reporters a chance to get a good deal on the local currency.

At the entrance to the old town on Tuesday, the dollar bought 2.4 Libyan dollars on the black market, up from 1.8 on Monday and 1.3 before the start of the insurgency.