Image: Libyan woman at a women-only gas station
Ivan Sekretarev  /  AP
A Libyan woman drives to the pumps at the women-only Gurji fuel station in Tripoli, Libya, on Sunday, May 29, 2011.
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updated 6/2/2011 4:41:40 AM ET 2011-06-02T08:41:40

Weary and frustrated, the women had been lined up for days in their dust-covered cars waiting to fill up at Tripoli's women-only gas station. A scowling female soldier kept order with the help of a few dozen male volunteers.

The men, in groups of two or three, pushed cars with their tanks on empty as the line snaked slowly forward.

"Push! Push!" one man grunted as a woman sporting large black sunglasses sat behind the wheel and steered her gray sedan. Behind her, a line stretched for miles as women sat numbly in their vehicles, their children playing in the street outside the cars.

The men, some wearing postcard-sized portraits of Moammar Gadhafi around their necks, slowly propelled the woman's car to a gas pump. There, a man stamped her fuel ration book, allowing her to buy government-subsidized fuel for a few cents a gallon.

A 35-year-old khaki-clad soldier, Ibtisam Saadeddin, occasionally barked orders. A heavyset woman in a green Muslim headscarf — the iconic Gadhafi regime color — wore a Gadhafi pin on her uniform and another above her forehead, pinned to her headscarf.

"He is the crown of my head," Saadeddin declared proudly, her heavily made-up face beaming.

The scene at the Gurji Women's Gas Station highlights the sharp shortages faced by Libyans throughout the areas ruled by Gadhafi's regime, where fuel, medicine, some food and commercial goods are scarce and streets filled with idle cars resemble parking lots.

Can-do spirit
They also show how a can-do spirit in this chaotically run country is helping residents get by.

The country is roughly divided between Gadhafi's rule in his Tripoli stronghold in the west and the rebel's bastion of Benghazi and a smattering of other towns in the east. The rebels are aided by NATO airstrikes, but fighting is at a stalemate.

The warfare has limited the oil-rich nation's ability to refine its own fuel. NATO-allied ships divert fuel tankers, and supply routes are often disrupted.

Video: Long gas lines put more pressure on Gadhafi (on this page)

Foreign workers have fled the violence, paralyzing industry. And with banks limiting withdrawals to a few hundred dollars a month, residents are short of cash.

The gas station on Tripoli's main Gurji road has always been just for women, said Sarhan al-Hashm, taking a break from pushing cars.

The gender-segregated station is an oddity in a country where Gadhafi's mix of personality cult and authoritarian, socialist-style rule has pushed women to break cultural taboos, even as it savagely prevents other freedoms.

Unlike their sisters in other Arab countries, women in Libya serve in the military and police force, and sometimes occupy high-ranking positions in the Libyan government.

Image: Female solder shouts pro-Gadhafi chants at a women-only gas station
Ivan Sekretarev  /  AP
Ibtisam Saadeddin, 35, right, a khaki-clad female soldier, shouts pro-Gadhafi chants at the women-only Gurji fuel station in Tripoli, Libya.

Still, having a gas station just for them has been a blessing, the women told The Associated Press during a government-sponsored visit over the weekend.

Other gas stations are mostly frequented by men whose tempers flare over the long wait and soldiers frequently fire their weapons in the air to break up fights.

Four-day wait for fuel
And while the lines are long here, they're among the shortest in the city. Other gas lines stretch over bridges, around overpasses, clogging up main arteries as far as the eye can see.

"I've waited four days for fuel. It's so tiring," said Sana Njeim, a 26-year-old computer student. She said her life revolved around gas lines. She leaves only to go to class, eat and sleep, leaving her car in neutral so the men can roll it forward.

It wasn't just the fuel, the young woman said.

"The price of food — it's on fire. Meat, vegetables ... it's all expensive," she said.

Her words were borne out by a series of visits to markets.

Fish — a staple food here — has shot up in price and is scarce because there isn't fuel for boats. And many fishermen — who mostly were Egyptians — fled the violence weeks ago. An upscale supermarket sold scattered chunks of veal and camel meat.

As Njeim spoke, indignant Gadhafi loyalists surrounded her vehicle.

One man demanded she only say "nice" things about Libya. Another shoved a picture of Gadhafi on her rearview mirror.

"Tell her you love the leader!" he barked.

The interview was cut short after another man ordered Njeim to stop speaking.

"You journalists all lie!" screamed Saadeddin, the female soldier, her round face registering her fury.

She stood before the gas pumps, pumping her fists and shouting pro-Gadhafi chants as two dozen soldiers and Gadhafi loyalists rushed to her side.

"Gas doesn't matter. We want our leader!" they chanted.

None of the women waiting in cars joined in.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Long gas lines put more pressure on Gadhafi

  1. Closed captioning of: Long gas lines put more pressure on Gadhafi

    >>> next up we go to libya and the increasing pressure to remove moammar gadhafi from pour power. there are long lines waiting for gasoline because there's a shortage of gasoline. the gas lines, we talk about them in the united states but they don't come close to what they are in tripoli . what's going on there?

    >> reporter: very few cars are still on the street and professional drivers, taxis, trucks, mini buses, they have no choice but to drive so when they run out of fuel, they go to the gas station , sometimes pushing their cars, and will have to wait three or four days before they can fill up their tanks. gas is still very, very cheap but there isn't enough of it. some is being diverted to troops fighting the rebel moviement in other parts of libya, not necessarily in tripoli itself. and also the embargo has stopped all imports of fuel and foreign goods. so in addition to the long gas lines there are also shortages of currency and with inflation as there's not as much supply coming in.

    >> what about economic sanctions , richard. might that put enough pressure on moammar gadhafi to get out if you couple that with the calls from the international community to say it's time to go?

    >> well, international sanctions are peculiar of foreign policy . they certainly make the people suffer and people here are suffering with the idea -- the idea is they would eventually rise up and turn against their government. this is a dictatorship so people don't have a lot of power to go out and express themselves. they are suffering in quiet. occasionally people will come up to us as journalists and express their frustrations but they do it with a great deal of trepidation. they are so worried that gadhafi's forces have thugs and enforcers in particular neighborhoods. i walked through a neighborhood outside of tripoli the other day with a man. he was so scared he wanted me to walk several hub dread yards behind him. he wouldn't turn around so that none of his neighbors would know we were in cop kmooun indication, yes they're making them suffer but there's still a great deal of fear. security forces are strong and people have not been able to organize and put any kind of physical opposition against the regime into effect here.

    >> always appreciate your live reporting. thank you.

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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