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Libya’s Opposition Tries to Define Itself to Gain Western Support

An armed Libyan rebel chants anti-Gadhafi slogans during a rally iin Benghazi, March 13, 2011

An armed Libyan rebel chants anti-Gadhafi slogans during a rally iin Benghazi, March 13, 2011

As the West debates whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, rebels there are left to fend for themselves against pro-government forces pushing eastward toward Benghazi.

In this port town where the opposition has established its headquarters, the mood is anxious. Everyone wonders: which will come first -- international military support or Colonel Moammar Gadhafi?

Residents stockpile reserves for fear of an attack.

Rebels try to regroup, following recent battlefield losses.

Despite anxiety and fear, Benghazis still widely support the 11-person provisional transitional council -- a group of men and women who lead the opposition.

Every day residents come out to show their support.

But for the international community, council members are unknown. Who are they and what do they want?

Council spokesman Abdul Hefda Ghoga offers this explanation. “We would like to assure everybody that once Gadhafi is gone it will be a much better place than it has been for the last 40 years. We will have true democracy in Libya. There will be a civil state that is independent and enjoys its civil rights,” he said.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi portrays the rebels as religious extremists. "It is a small group from Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Palestine who entered cities, they entered Zentan, Zawiyah and Benghazi and then what happened? They recruited youngsters, juveniles under the age of 20 upon whom the law cannot even apply," he said.

In Benghazi, there is little talk of establishing any kind of Islamic caliphate. For out of work Faraj Saber, it is all about having more of a voice…and a choice. “We should have more democracy, election…nobody rule us or control us for five years, fours years, not 40 years, like Gadhafi,” Saber said.

For the provisional transitional council, it's about avoiding another authoritarian leader like Moammar Gadhafi. Many such as Ghoga say they have no aspirations to permanent power.

“Once we are through this stage, we will work on developing a national dialogue among all Libyan forces in order to put the basis for the next stage. And we will have to develop together a civil organization to establish a constitution and then we will look on how to move into an election period,” Ghoga said.

To overthrow Mr. Gadhafi and start that process, the young of Benghazi train to fight…even if that training is woefully short.

Many of the boys are of questionable age. There’s a feeling that this fight could be a long one.

The image of Omar Mukhtar, the Lion of the Desert freedom fighter of a century ago, is a common sight.

He is a symbol for many.

So is his slogan: "No surrender, either victory or death."

The rebels believe they face the same choice against Colonel Gadhafi.

Few focus on the fact that for Mukhtar it was death. The Italians hanged him.