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Life for Residents in Opposition-Held Libya Calm But Anxious

  • Scott Bobb

A youth sells hats, flags, and other souvenirs in the colors of the opposition flag to those gathering for Friday prayers in the square next to the courthouse on the corniche in Benghazi, Libya April 15, 2011

A youth sells hats, flags, and other souvenirs in the colors of the opposition flag to those gathering for Friday prayers in the square next to the courthouse on the corniche in Benghazi, Libya April 15, 2011

The fighting in Libya has devastated coastal cities in the central part of the country, but life in parts of the rebel-controlled east has settled into some measure of uneasy calm.

It is market day at Findiq Market, Benghazi’s largest vegetable market. Business is good despite fighting a few hundred kilometers away.

Raja Salem has come shopping with her husband, Ahmed. She says tensions here have eased considerably since opposition forces consolidated control of this city of 800,000 people.

She says most things are available in the market, but some things are missing. There is a shortage of fruit and the prices are higher.

Abdullah Mohamed owns a tire shop. He says almost everything is available nowadays. But with pro-Gadhafi forces attacking cities less than 200 kilometers away, security is the biggest concern.

"Just the threat, because people are afraid of any attack from… you know [pro-Gadhafi forces]," Mohamed explained.

A few weeks ago, the mood was desperate as troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi entered the city.

Fearing a possible massacre, Western governments launched air strikes against pro-Gadhafi planes and tanks. And the opposition forces pushed the Gadhafi troops out of the city.

The fighting caused hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to flee Libya. Shop owner Majdi Abdelmonem is from Egypt. He has stayed on but, he says, everyone is afraid.

He says all foreign nationals, not just the Egyptians, were scared after Gadhafi said in a speech that the foreigners were nothing. They were not human. So we were all afraid that we would be massacred.

The estimated two million foreign workers provide a great deal of the manpower in Libya whose population totals only six million. Because of their flight, many shops and factories are now closed.

Ulrich Reuter is part owner of an engineering firm that was building a water reservoir and cell phone towers in Libya.

"For us, our business is stopped at the moment," noted Reuter. "Most of our young people are involved in the fighting and actually we cannot operate any business now."

Despite the uncertainty, life goes on. The markets are stocked mostly with products from neighboring Egypt. And businessmen like Reuter plan to stay.

"We have to see now how this will come to an end," added Reuter. "And I think after this there will be a lot of work to rebuild country. You have seen the streets here, you have seen the infrastructure. There is a lot of need."

He says first the new government and institutions must be established.

The interim council governing eastern Libya has exported its first tanker of 100,000 barrels of crude oil.

It has announced the heads of its petroleum company and central bank. And it says it is consulting with local businessmen on establishing letters of credit so they can resume importing goods.

But with the fighting still raging a few hundred kilometers away, local businessmen say it will be some time before they can re-open their shuttered enterprises and start to revive the economy and put people back to work.

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