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Wounded Libyans Say Protests Were Worth The Price


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

In Libya's capital today, more bloodshed. One witness in Tripoli captured the scene and posted his video to Twitter.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

MONTAGNE: The sounds in Tripoli today. as protesters streamed out of mosques after Friday prayers. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi opened fire, witnesses say. The Associated Press reports at least four people were killed.

A doctor in Tripoli reached by telephone told NPR that protesters were bringing the injured to hospital by car. The doctor, who asked that his name not be used, accused the government of hiding bodies in order to cover up the death count.

Human right activists put the number killed in a week of unrest in the hundreds. Gadhafi is still clinging power to power in the capital, but much of the rest of Libya is in the hands of the rebels.

Tens of thousands of people held rallies in eastern cities today. People there say they will never again submit to his rule.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Benghazi, the largest city in the East, and filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the largest hospital in Benghazi, the wounded from this bloody uprising are still being treated. Dr. Ramadan Atiywa is a Libyan cardiothoracic surgeon who practices in England. He travelled here from the UK a few days ago to help. What he found shocked him.

Dr. RAMADAN ATIYWA (Surgeon): All the injuries in the upper half of the body, either in chest or in the neck or in the head. So the intention of killing, those people who they're quadriplegic and paraplegic, and there's another person on the other side which is the bullet still in his brain.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He gestures to one of the patients before him.

Dr. ATIYWA: This is a very young chap. He should have a very nice future. He should be a university graduate and build his country. Now he is in the ventilator. We don't know whether he will make it or not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In this hospital alone - and there are others in this city - at least 100 people died and 1,000 were treated for injuries over the past week. The death toll from this revolution keeps on rising. And in front of me is a corpse, covered in a green blanket. Doctors here say he died only an hour ago, not surviving the gunshot wound that he received while protesting.

Most of those being treated here were wounded during the violent bloody crackdown by Gadhafi's troops over the weekend on the pro-democracy youth. Twenty-four-year-old Ayman Salem is lying on a gurney. He's lucid but seriously injured.

Mr. AYMAN SALEM: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He tells me he was hurt last Friday during the funeral of a fellow protester. Gadhafi's troops opened fire on the procession. His brother was killed in the attack. He was shot three times in the upper body. But when I ask him if the price he paid for the liberation of this city was worth it, he doesn't hesitate. Absolutely, he says. Gadhafi is a tyrant. And the massacre against us, he says, only served to drive more people into the streets.

It's calm now in Benghazi and the city is completely in the hands of the rebels. It's only been a week since the revolution began, but there is a ruling council here that has tried to get the city back to normal. Everyone is pitching in, collecting garbage, directing traffic, getting supplies. They boast the city is running more efficiently now than it did under the regime.

The last bastion of pro-Gadhafi forces was defeated earlier in the week at the main military base, where Gadhafi's eastern palace is also located.

Now the two-story postmodern building that was his residence in Benghazi is a blackened ruin. Thousands of people have come to see it, and deface it. Graffiti is sprayed all over the walls. People say secret underground prisons have been discovered in this military compound. It's not clear if this is rumor or fact. We were shown large cellars, but they could have just as easily been used for weapons storage. But there is no doubt that most of the people who died in Benghazi during the revolution were shot at by soldiers and mercenaries camped out here.

As he walks around, Issam Gadani kicks at bits of debris and shakes his head.

Mr. ISSAM GADANI: (Through translator) I don't know what to say. What I'm seeing is horrible. People here, because of this guy, people here died.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Outside in a large open area, a man has driven through the night with his family from Tripoli. People gather around him to hear news from the western part of the country, which is still under Gadhafi's control.

Mr. ADIL AL-ATTIYA: (Through translator) Checkpoints everywhere, all the way she was crying. The kids were crying. They were terrified.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adil al-Attiya says there is a reign of terror in the capital security forces grabbing protestors in their homes, people being shot at randomly in the streets. The crowd listens avidly. Then Adil al-Attiya exhorts them with tears to go and help the people of the capital. Send men. Send men, he cries, who are willing to die for freedom.

Mr. AL-ATTIYA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: God is great. To Tripoli, to Tripoli, the people of Benghazi who are listening shout back. We must free our country.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Benghazi, Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.