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From deep inside Tripoli, displays of defiance

From David McKenzie, CNN
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Libya: A dissident's voice
  • "This is the time for such risks," says rebel leader who torched a poster of Gadhafi
  • "This is history in the making," says "Niz"
  • "I would be lying if I was to say that I feel no fear"

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- The view that journalists get while driving through Tripoli is typically witnessed through the windows of government buses driving along routes selected by government minders that show a pro-government landscape. It's a view the Libyan government wants the rest of the world to see: people united in support for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Opposition figures in Tripoli who are not part of such tours, however, tell a different story. They are doing what they can to remake that image.

One of them calls himself "Niz" and asks that his real name not be revealed because he is afraid of government retribution. He said that the government is working hard to convey through the international media the image of being in control, but that that image is cracking.

"It is entirely in their favor to portray Tripoli as a stronghold, that it is a city entirely behind the regime and Gadhafi," he told CNN in an interview carried out through Skype to minimize the risk that government agents might track him down. "It can be considered as nothing but sheer lies."

He noted that, during spontaneous demonstrations in February, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the government. Since then, the government has effectively quashed such protests in the capital by using brute force.

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  • Libya
  • Libyan Politics
  • Moammar Gadhafi
  • NATO
  • Russia

Niz takes credit for trying to increase such displays of anti-government sentiment. He said he hurled a Molotov cocktail and set one of the capital's largest Gadhafi posters afire. "It is symbolic because it is in the heart of Tripoli," he said. "It has been what some people have been calling a city devoid of opposition to Gadhafi."

Niz described himself as a leader of the Free Generation Movement, a group of activists working in Tripoli under extreme secrecy. They have a communications center linked to a satellite dish that serves as their window to the outside world, which they use to covertly spread their message of defiance.

"I think that this is the time for such risks," he said. "We are at a historic juncture in our lives now. And for years, for almost 42 years, the people of Libya have been apathetic. We have been showing nothing but apathy and I have been one of them. Now is the time for everyone to stand up and to be counted."

It's not just rebels who are taking risks, Niz said. So too are ordinary youths, some of whom recently painted the opposition flag on a highway in a city crawling with government gunmen.

Asked what would happen if he were caught carrying out such an act, Niz said his life would be at risk. "Security forces at checkpoints could quite readily shoot us for what we do and they would be accountable to nobody. Nothing that we do can be deemed as anything other than acts of civil disobedience, and yet we risk execution if we are caught."

Over several weeks of reporting, it became clear that Niz is not alone in his viewpoint: there exists in Tripoli a large, frightened group of people who oppose Gadhafi. Niz hopes to push them into action.

"This is history in the making," he said. "This is the kind of thing that people will be talking about long after I have gone."

Members of groups like the Free Generation Movement say they hope that, when the history of Libya's war is written, it will show that they helped write the defining chapters.

"To all the people around Libya, to all the people around the world, there is activity in Tripoli and it's progressively increasing and so, what will inevitably be, is zero hour, which will inevitably be the fall of the regime," Niz said.

That's a goal that many activists are striving for.

Though such efforts against a "lawless" government apparatus may be difficult to carry out, they are not impossible, he said. "The security apparatus is fundamentally flawed, it is fragmented, ill-trained, ill-prepared and they are not invincible," he said.

No matter how many government snipers Gadhafi may post on roofs throughout the capital, they will not suffice to quiet the opposition, he said. "You cannot prevent or silence the will of an entire nation."

But, he acknowledged, the risk carries not only the potential for reward, but the burden of fear. "I would be lying if I was to say that I feel no fear or anxiety," he said. "I am just a normal person without a background in military or activism. I am just a normal guy opposing the regime at a time when I believe that we are duty-bound to all do so."

Yet, he predicted, his efforts and those of like-minded residents of Tripoli will ultimately prove victorious with the end of Gadhafi's rule.

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