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Tripoli Residents Start Life Over Without Gadhafi
DAVID GREENE, host:
And let's turn now to Libya, where the capital Tripoli is rapidly rebounding from the fighting that ousted Moammar Gadhafi from power. Less than three weeks after the rebels launched their assault on the city, shops are re-opening, the water and electricity are back on, and garbage is being picked up. Tripoli's new city officials are also working to re-establish security. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in the city and sent us this report.
JASON BEAUBIEN: In downtown Tripoli the clothing stores on what used to be called 1st of September Street are starting to re-open. The street was named to mark the day Moammar Gadhafi seized power in a 1969 coup. It's now being renamed 17th of February to commemorate the start of the uprising that finally drove Gadhafi from office.
Boutiques here offer men's suits, elegant dinner gowns, perfume and other high-end items. Many of these shops have been closed for months and some remain shuttered.
In the past, all front doors of stores had to be green, the color of the Gadhafi regime. Now many merchants are repainting their storefronts in the red, green and black stripes of the revolution. Abdul Muktar al-Gaddi has a giant rebel flag waving in front of his menswear store.
Mr. ABDUL MUKTAR AL-GADDI (Store Owner): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Al-Gaddi says he was closed off and on during the uprising. His suits come from Turkey and he says the NATO blockade made it almost impossible to get more stock. When there was no electricity, people wouldn't come out and shop at night. And he shutdown entirely during the fighting late last month.
Now he says his biggest problem is that people don't have money to buy new clothes. He, however, is optimistic this will change in the coming weeks.
Group: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Just around the corner from al-Gaddi's shop, about a hundred men are crowded around the entrance to a bank. Mousa Ismael Ahmed says he's been here in the intense North African sun for three or four hours, trying to get inside. Sweat beads across his forehead and stains the front of this shirt.
Mr. MOUSA ISMAEL: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man #1 (Translator): He says there is no order and people are fighting because of there is no order.
BEAUBIEN: Ahmed said he's been trying for months to withdraw money from his account, but the banks haven't had currency. Britain just released close to a billion dollars in frozen Libyan bank notes. There's a hope here that this will help ease the cash shortage.
In the final weeks and months of the Gadhafi era, basic services such as garbage removal broke down. Libya relied heavily on foreign workers, many of them from Sub-Saharan Africa, to do menial jobs, clean the streets and pick up the trash. But most of those foreign workers have fled.
In the Abu Salim neighborhood of Tripoli this week, local residents are sweeping up bullet casings and other debris while singing the praises of the new free Libya.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)
BEAUBIEN: Garbage crews have started moving through Tripoli clearing away the huge piles of trash, but city officials say these crews are being paid by a group of local businessmen.
Hisham Krekshi, the deputy chairman of the Tripoli City Council, says the newly formed city government is still in crisis mode, dealing with day-to-day problems. He says re-establishing the local police is the council's top priority. But Krekshi says things are improving rapidly.
Mr. HISHAM KREKSHI (Deputy chairman, Tripoli City Council): We have a crisis committee here in the Tripoli local council. And that committee did a good job to get the water back, to get the electricity running and also to get the gas stations from seven, eight days line up to one hour, two hours, fifteen minutes some places.
BEAUBIEN: The rebel's transitional government announced that the schools are going to reopen later this month, but Krekshi thinks that so soon after the fighting this is overly optimistic.
Mr. KREKSHI: Schools are not ready. Let's put it that way. They used schools as prisons. They used schools as hospitals. And that all needs to be neat, tidy and things, you know.
BEAUBIEN: The lobby of City Hall is filled with people seeking missing relatives. Other people who were displaced by the fighting are seeking help to get home.
Krekshi says Tripoli has a thousand needs right now. There are buildings that were damaged by NATO bombing and rocket attacks. The main airport remains closed. Workers at the sea port still haven't returned to the docks.
The city government is also facing a cash crisis, Krekshi says, and is waiting for oil revenues to be available again.
Mr. KREKSHI: The previous regime didn't leave us nothing other than oil.
BEAUBIEN: He says eventually the government needs to develop alternative revenue streams. But given that there was fighting in the streets just two weeks ago, Krekshi says, the city is doing extremely well.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.