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Despite Government Strikes, Rebel-Held Areas Hold On in Libya


Rebels run for cover during clashes with pro-Gaddafi forces between Ras Lanuf and Ben Jawad, March 9, 2011

Rebels run for cover during clashes with pro-Gaddafi forces between Ras Lanuf and Ben Jawad, March 9, 2011

Libyan government forces are keeping up their offensive on rebel-held areas, including with an air strike Wednesday on a key oil storage facility. Even as the military momentum appears to be swinging back to the government, many in the rebel-held areas are getting on with life without Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The government claimed to have the upper hand in Zawiya, near Tripoli, Wednesday after days of tank and artillery attacks on the rebellious western town. In the east, Ras Lanuf also came under government attack, with the military appearing to consolidate gains made in pushing back rebels just days before. Warplanes attacked the As Sidr oil installation, causing a fire and sending huge plumes of smoke into the sky.

Colonel Gadhafi Wednesday again denounced his opponents as foreign-backed supporters of al-Qaida.

But in Benghazi, the seat of the rebellion, ordinary citizens are quick to point out they are not with al-Qaida, and this is not a civil war. Many say they simply want to rid themselves of an oppressive government and live a normal life. And to some extent, they are. Infrastructure is working. Gasoline is available. In the main public market, workers unload trucks of fresh produce.

Video footage from Libya

Ramadan, a grocer who gives just his first name, says he's been importing a bit more than usual from neighboring Egypt, because many of the migrant farm workers in Libya fled the unrest. But the grocer adds there's been no increase in price in the imported food and business is fine. The butchers are also content, their shops filled with local meat and chickens.

But for one of the meat sellers, that's not the point. Idriss Mohammad al Ojali spent two years in Colonel Gadhafi's prisons in the 1970s for taking part in a student protest.

After a forced 12-year stint in the military, he took up his current job. He worked in a small shop, but was rounded up two years ago. He was one of what he calls the government's "usual suspects." Judged a terrorist, he spent a bizarrely short sentence of one month in jail. Now the butcher just wants Colonel Gadhafi to leave him alone.

"Go away from us," he says. "He oppressed us. He made us suffer." Although Ojali proudly shows the money he earns from his small shop here in Benghazi, he'd gladly do without.

"I wish for freedom, to breathe in freedom." he says. He can eat only bread and salt, he says, as long as it's in freedom.

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