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Novelist Tries To Corroborate Accounts Out Of Libya

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're keeping a close watch on Libya throughout our program. We do know that the uprising there, which is nearly a week old, is intensifying. Foreign journalists have been forbidden from entering the country. The country appears to be largely cut off from the Internet. So we're going to try to sort through all the rumors and claims with Hisham Matar. He's a Libyan novelist. He was born in the U.S., lives in London, and there has set up an ad-hoc newsroom, attempting to follow events in Libya.

Welcome to the program, sir.

Mr. HISHAM MATAR (Author, "In the Country of Men"): Hello. Hi.

INSKEEP: How are you going about trying to clarify what's going on?

Mr. MATAR: As you probably know, it's very difficult to get news outside of Libya, because the regime, from the very first day of the protests, banned any journalists from coming into Libya. So there were no reports coming out.

And so what we did - me and several other people - is used our links inside the country with teachers, writers, lawyers, bystanders, to try to gather information and corroborate accounts of the incidences that we've been hearing about.

And when we get two or three such accounts, we write them all up and then we call people back and just make sure that the story is solid. And then we feed this out to journalists outside.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you about - the second biggest city, Benghazi, as you know very well, has been the center of the protests. There have been reports suggesting that perhaps the security forces have fled or have abandoned the streets. What are you hearing, if anything, from people who are eyewitnesses or in a position to know?

Mr. MATAR: Since the protests started, parts of Benghazi very quickly fell under the control of the protestors, meaning that the security forces retreated from there. And this has been growing, and there have been battles in different parts of the town. And yesterday, the entire city fell to the protestors. The military that are there are military that have defected and joined the people.

INSKEEP: Is there a leadership of these protestors who are now setting up some kind of government?

Mr. MATAR: No. Very similar to the Egyptian and Tunisian versions, there is no clear leader. The demonstrators, although they're leaderless, they have issued statements of their demands for democratic reform, a multi-party system. There seems to e some kind of vision to what people are desiring.

INSKEEP: Of course, the next question is: What happens in Tripoli, the capital? What are you hearing from there?

Mr. MATAR: Yesterday, there were about 3,000 people. They have been trying - I spoke to one person who was demonstrating there, and he said we are urging people to join us, but at the same time, we completely understand why they're not joining us. But we are trying and hoping that our example would embolden them and would encourage them to come out.

INSKEEP: As I'm sure you know very well, Gadhafi's son has been on television warning of civil war. I guess there could be a civil war if there was some large segment of society that still supported Colonel Gadhafi. As best you can tell, is there some large slice of society that would support him?

Mr. MATAR: Well, I'm sure. I'm sure there are people that benefit from the regime, and have for a long time. And so that is certainly the case. But the overwhelming majority of Libyans are exhausted, frankly, by this regime's rule and it's - the way it has narrowed life to an incredibly difficult and precarious and unpredictable existence.

INSKEEP: Hisham Matar is author of the novel "In the Country of Men." He's monitoring events in Libya.

Thanks very much.

Mr. MATAR: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: And you hear him on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.