Government-run checkpoints have replaced those set up by rebels. Along the 110-mile stretch between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, there were few visible signs of the unrest reported in recent days.
|Libyan soldiers run a checkpoint on the road between Tripoli, the capital, and the Tunisian border.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times / March 3, 2011)
A burned-out police station and the absence of the once-ubiquitous portraits of Col.Moammar Kadafi are evidence of what happened here recently. The camouflage-clad soldiers wielding AK-47s and glaring at passing motorists show who is in charge now.
“God. Moammar. Libya. And that’s it,” said a handwritten sign displayed at a hastily set-up checkpoint at the center of this once-contested town.
An emboldened Libyan government on Thursday took a large group of journalists across the lengthy expanse of the country’s northwestern corridor to the Tunisian border in an attempt to show how firmly it was in control here.
The northwest is one of the sparsely populated nation’s most developed areas, home to industry, a major oil refinery and numerous small cities, as well as the capital, Tripoli. Kadafi’s consolidation of power over the restive piece of real estate, which appears to have taken place over the last few days, may explain his bold gambit Wednesday to try and seize rebel-controlled Port Brega, the oil terminal community far to the east of his center of power.
Kadafi’s forces turned their sights on Port Brega — without success — only after they had apparently neutralized any large-scale rebellion in the northwest. At the same time, an air of uncertainty hung over the largely barren scrubland.
Opposition supporters have called for renewed protests Friday in the region’s government-controlled areas. In apparent anticipation, authorities late Thursday shut down the Internet, cellphone service and other means of communications in Tripoli and flooded the highway west with tanks and other armored vehicles.
Along the 110-mile stretch between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, there were few visible signs that the unrest reported in recent days by refugees fleeing the country and residents reached by telephone was continuing in the region.
But with the large number of government checkpoints to maneuver past, and efforts to avoid any possibly rebel-controlled areas, a tour that normally would have taken no longer than five hours became a 12-hour journey.