Video: Rebels build base in Benghazi, prep for battle

  1. Closed captioning of: Rebels build base in Benghazi, prep for battle

    >>> germany says it has conducted a secret military air mission into the libyan dez tort extract some of its citizens from the embattled country. britain's royal air force has also staged its own stealthy evacuations amid fierce of violence is about to get even worse . nbc's richard engel is in the key rebel strong hold of benghazi . richard, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, lester . as you mentioned, foreign governments are extracting their citizens here. everyone on the ground expect that this conflict will escalate even further. foreign workers are escaping libya in droves. according to the united nations , 100,000 people have fled libya since fighting began, all but stopping libya 's economy. foreign works ran libya 's oil industry . now, oil fields are still. exports largely halted. people are leaving because of scenes like this. an internet video appears to show gadhafi 's forces executing rebels in the streets of tripoli . the violent may have been too much even for gadhafi 's ukrainian nurse, described in a cable as a voluptuous blonde always at his side. now she has returned to kiev. but his son denies the opposition is killing the regime and in interviews with former media with itn's channel four. your father lost control of ben glaz gaz zi, he must be disappointed. he must feel this is a big blow .

    >> in benghazi there's 1.5 million people and they are talking to us and calling us, people that are afraid of the militia on the ground, because the militia, armed militia .

    >> do you think he will ever get back the parts of libya that he has lost?

    >> libya -- ben gasz.

    >> is part of libya .

    >> what spir visit your father in?

    >> very good. morales are very high.

    >> reporter: in benghazi , the people don't seem frightened. they are building a new country here. today, the opposition distributed food, banks reopened. the opposition even named an independent government of what they now call free libya . and free libya is building an army. at an old court building in benghazi , they have already collected the names of thousands of volunteers. most want to go to the front lines. others do donate money, cars and weapons. the rebels are keeping some of the heavy weapons here there are artillery rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and what appears to be a box of live grenades. they say that most of the weapon have already been sent to tripoli . the rebels know gadhafi and his family will hang on to tripoli as long as they can. they say they plan to take the city by force. both sides now seem to be consolidating their forces, lester . the rebels here in benghazi and there are reports tonight that gadhafi 's forces are planning a cou counteroffensive around tripoli .

    >> are any of the rebels talking about what a postgadhafi government might look like and the risk that libya could become a failed state ?

    >> reporter: there is a risk that it could become a failed state . for 41 years, this country has had no real institutions at all. gadhafi has run it like a cult of personality . there's no constitution. there's no parliament to speak of. so they know they will have to start from scratch. right now, today, they were trying to put a leadership together, even here in benghazi , but so far, they don't have a consolidated leadership in this city alone, let alone a national plan. lester ?

    >> richard engel tonight. thank you.

Image: Protesters in Zawiya
Ahmed Jadallah  /  Reuters
A Libyan army tank manned by soldiers opposed to leader Muammar Gadhafi is surrounded by protesters in the city of Zawiya on Feb. 27. Armed men opposed to the rule of Gadhafi were in control of the city of Zawiyah, 30 miles west of the capital Tripoli.
updated 2/27/2011 8:17:51 PM ET 2011-02-28T01:17:51

With residents shouting "Free, free Libya," anti-government rebels who control this battle-scarred city nearest to the capital deployed tanks and anti-aircraft weapons Sunday, bracing for an attack by troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Politicians in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, meanwhile, set up their first leadership council in a step that could lead to an alternative to the regime.

In the capital of Tripoli, where Gadhafi is still firmly in control, state banks began handing out the equivalent of $400 per family in a bid to win back loyalty.

"The Libyan people are fully behind me," Gadhafi defiantly told Serbian TV, even as about half of the country was turning against him and world leaders moved to isolate him. "A small group (of rebels) is surrounded ... and it will be dealt with."

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Gadhafi has launched by far the bloodiest crackdown in a wave of anti-government uprisings sweeping the Arab world, the most serious challenge to his four decades in power. The United States, Britain and the U.N. Security Council all slapped sanctions on Libya this weekend, and President Barack Obama said it is time for Gadhafi to go.

Gunfire heard in Tripoli
Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, in an interview with U.S. television, insisted that his father won't relinquish power and that Libya had not used force or airstrikes against its own people.

There were no reports of major violence or clashes on Sunday, although gunfire was heard after nightfall in Tripoli.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was "reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves westward there as well." Two U.S. senators said Washington should recognize and arm a provisional government in rebel-held areas of eastern Libya and impose a no-fly zone over the area — enforced by U.S. warplanes — to stop attacks by the regime.

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest (on this page)

The regime, eager to reinforce its view that Libya is calm and under its control, took visiting journalists to Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the capital of Tripoli on Sunday. The tour, however, confirmed that anti-government rebels control the center of the city of 200,000 people, with army tanks and anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks at the ready.

Hundreds of people chanted "Gadhafi out!" in central Zawiya, a key city close to an oil port and refineries. It also is the nearest population center to Tripoli to fall into rebel hands.

'Dracula of Libya'
The charred hulks of cars littered the city, many buildings were pockmarked by bullets, and most streets were blocked by felled palm trees or metal barricades. Police stations and government offices have been torched, and anti-Gadhafi graffiti — labeling him a "mass murderer" — was everywhere. In the main square, an effigy of the leader hung from a light pole with the words "Execute Gadhafi" on its chest.

"To us, Gadhafi is the 'Dracula' of Libya," said Wael al-Oraibi, an army officer in Zawiya who decided to join the rebels in large part after Gadhafi used mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa against residents of the city.

The mood in Zawiya was generally upbeat, with chants of "Free, free Libya," although the anticipation of a renewed attempt to retake the city was causing some anxiety among the rebels.

"We are all wanted," said one rebel at the square who did not want to give his name for fear of reprisals. "Zawiya in our hands is a direct threat to Tripoli."

On Zawiya's outskirts were pro-Gadhafi forces, also backed by tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

About 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of Zawiya, some 3,000 pro-Gadhafi demonstrators gathered on the coastal highway, chanting slogans in support of the Libyan leader.

Rebels and defecting army forces largely consolidated control of Zawiya on Thursday, after an army unit loyal to Gadhafi opened fire on a mosque where residents — some armed with hunting rifles — had been holding a sit-in. The square has become the burial site of six of 11 rebels killed by pro-Gadhafi forces who failed to retake the town that day. Residents reported several skirmishes between both sides since then.

At least six checkpoints controlled by troops loyal to Gadhafi stood on the road from Tripoli to Zawiya. Each one was reinforced by at least one tank, with troops who concealed their faces with scarves.

'Now everything is quiet'
Before Zawiya fell to rebel forces, Gadhafi had scolded its residents on Thursday, saying they were in league with terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"Shame on you, people of Zawiya. Control your children," he said. "They are loyal to bin Laden," he said of those involved in the uprising. "What do you have to do with bin Laden, people of Zawiya? They are exploiting young people. ... I insist it is bin Laden."

Gadhafi blasted sanctions against his country and vowed to stay in power, telling Serbia's private Pink TV in a telephone interview that "the Libyan people are still behind me."

"Currently in Libya there are no incidents, now everything is quiet," Gadhafi said.

His son, Seif al-Islam, again denied in a TV interview that the Libyan regime used force or airstrikes against its own people.

"Show me a single attack. Show me a single bomb," he told ABC's "This Week." "The Libyan air force destroyed just the ammunition sites. That's it."

Human rights groups and European officials have put the death toll since unrest began in Libya nearly two weeks ago at hundreds — perhaps thousands — although it has been virtually impossible to verify the numbers.

The British-educated Seif al-Islam is the most visible of Gadhafi's children and has been acting as a spokesman for the regime.

"The whole south is calm. The west is calm. The middle is calm. Even part of the east," he said.

Asked about Obama's call for his father to step down, he said: "It's not an American business, that's No. 1. Second, do they think this is a solution? Of course not."

As for the U.S. freeze of Libyan assets, he said: "First of all, we don't have money outside. We are a very modest family and everybody knows that."

'Untrue media reports'
Libya's Foreign Ministry said it regretted the U.N. Security Council resolution, saying it was based on "untrue media reports."

Gadhafi loyalists remain in control of Tripoli, where most stores were closed and long lines formed outside the few banks open for business.

Residents thronged to the banks after state TV promised each family 500 Libyan dinars (about $400), plus the equivalent of about $100 credit for phone service. State TV also said families also will be entitled to 60,000 Libyan dinars (about $49,000) in interest-free loans to buy apartments.

State TV showed video of people handing over identity documents to bank tellers, who processed the information. Some people, however, said they only got vouchers when banks ran out of money.

Libya's Central Bank said in a statement on state TV that payments will be made for the next few days. "Give banks a chance to secure the needed liquidity in its branches at the suitable time," it said.

One resident said Tripoli's calm may be deceptive.

"The situation is being constructed to look natural, but it is not," said a 40-year-old Tripoli businessman who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals. "People are scared and they are waiting for the fall of the regime. People are scared to go out or to gather because some areas have been taken over by armed groups loyal to the regime."

Another Tripoli resident, a 21-year-old Libyan-American who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Rahma, said the city was deserted Sunday. "No one is driving around, no one is out in the streets."

Her aunt, she said, went out and came back to tell the rest of the family that there were pro-regime checkpoints across the city.

A doctor in Libya's third-largest city of Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli, said residents retrieved two more bodies of those killed in fighting with pro-Gadhafi forces near the city's air base Friday. That raised the death toll from fighting to 27. About 30 people who took part in the battle remain unaccounted for, said the doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals.

In Libya's second-largest city of Benghazi, politicians said Sunday they are setting up a council to run day-to-day affairs in the eastern half of the country under their control. It was seen as the first attempt to create a leadership body that could eventually form an alternative to the Gadhafi government.

Former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who defected from the Gadhafi regime, said Saturday he was setting up a provisional government.

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

But a prominent human rights lawyer, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, held a news conference to shoot down the claim, saying instead that politicians in the east were establishing the transitional council only to manage daily life in the rebel-controlled areas until Gadhafi falls.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was due in Washington on Monday to discuss with Obama other possible measures that could be taken against the Libyan government.

U.S. Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the U.S. and its allies should enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the military from again firing on civilian protesters from the air. Lieberman said Washington should arm the provisional government in rebel-held areas of eastern Libya "to fight on behalf of the people of Libya against a really cruel dictator."

The White House had no immediate comment.

Evacuation flights
British and German military planes landed in Libya's desert, rescuing hundreds of oil workers and civilians stranded at remote sites over the weekend, while thousands of other foreigners were still stuck in Tripoli by bad weather and red tape. The secret military missions signal the readiness of Western nations to disregard Libya's territorial integrity when it comes to the safety of their citizens.

Thousands of Egyptian and Chinese expatriates, meanwhile, continued to stream out of Libya on its western border with Tunisia into camps near the frontier.

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In Ukraine, a nurse believed to have a close relationship with Gadhafi was reported to have deserted Gadhafi after his crackdown. Halyna Kolotnytska, 38, arrived in Kiev early Sunday on a plane that evacuated 122 Ukrainians and 68 foreign nationals from Libya.

A U.S. diplomatic cable released last year said the eccentric 68-year-old leader is deeply attached to Kolotnytska, describing her as a "voluptuous blonde" who always travels with Gadhafi because only she "knows his routine," and it suggested the two may be romantically involved.

The Segodnya daily cited Kolotnytska's daughter Tetyana as saying that her mother was out of danger and planned to return to Ukraine in the near future.

The paper said Kolotnytska moved to Libya nine years ago. She worked at a hospital before Gadhafi hired her.

"He is employing other Ukrainian women as nurses as well. Mom is one of them," Tetyana was quoted as saying. "For some reason, he doesn't trust Libyan women with that."

___

Associated Press reporters Paul Schemm in Benghazi, Libya, Bradley Klapper in Washington, Anita Snow at the United Nations, Maria Danilova in Kiev, Ukraine, and Ben Hubbard and Bassem Mroue in Cairo contributed to this report.

This story includes information from AP, Reuters, NBC News and msnbc.com staff.

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
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    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya

Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest

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