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Libya's Prime Minister Says NATO 'Tried Everything and Failed'

Libya’s normally jovial Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmudi looked tired as he sat down in front of local and international journalists to give a press conference in Tripoli Sunday morning.

It could be the effort of a week of daytime fasting for Ramadan or it could be the fact that he’s the most senior representative of a government that’s no longer recognized by many countries as the legitimate power here.

Wikipedia has amended its chronology of Libyan government leaders to include Mahmoud Jibril the head of the opposition National Transitional Council.

Al-Mahmudi’s strained appearance, though, probably owes more to the fact that anti-Muammar Qaddafi factions are pressing in on his capital on three fronts and using NATO air power to take more of the country each day.

In character, he downplayed the opposition’s battlefield successes.

“We are happy that these Libyan cities and towns are getting so much attention daily by the world’s media – it will be good for our tourism industry,” he says.  

And as for the rebel’s insistence that they will reach Tripoli before the end of the holy month, al-Mahmudi says, “We will wait and see.”

“They (NATO) have tried everything and failed. All that’s left for them is to use a nuclear bomb on us. Maybe that’s their only way out of this.”

But outside of his headquarters the prime minister’s problems are mounting by the minute.

Fuel supplies are being heavily rationed to the public, food prices are rising conspicuously and the country’s electricity grid is failing, leaving many Libyans without power in daytime temperatures approaching 104 degrees.

Even on this looming catastrophe the prime minister remains upbeat announcing; “as for the electricity we will be able to get full capacity back within hours or a day.”

As if to demonstrate this journalists are taken to a Tripoli suburb where the electricity has been intermittent at best for the past two weeks. While the power is now on in Souq al-Juma’ah the atmosphere is far from comfortable. 

Back in February Souq al-Juma’ah, which translates to Friday Market, was the scene of anti-Qaddafi marches and ensuing violence. Since then rumours have been rife about late night knocks on the door and mass arrests.

It isn’t long before a local teenage passing by yells, “(expletive) Qaddafi!”

It’s the boldest pronouncement yet that not everyone in the Libyan capital supports ‘the leader’ as Qaddafi is commonly known.

Many of the shops in this neighborhood are shuttered and there is a long queue around the corner at the local bakery for bread.

“We will be free,” says a man who doesn’t want to be filmed. “Muammar Qaddafi should leave the country.”

The man says if he was overheard saying this he would be taken away. “And never see the light again.”

And there is no shortage of  "local officials" on hand to listen-in. When shopper Mohammad Faraj told television cameras he’d welcome elections as a possible means for ending the Libyan crisis he is prevented from leaving without first having his papers checked.

Others in the street are more cautious, whispering “Qaddafi” while crossing their wrists in a gesture meant to portray they too want to see the back of a man who has been in charge here for more than 41 years.

For every person who voices discord, though, there is an equal number who honk horns at reporters and chant the often heard, “Allah, Muammar, Libya – that is all.”

Souq al-Juma’ah, like the rest of the country is divided.

While conscious that under Qaddafi there was likely corruption and favouritism many Libyans fear the situation here could descend into anarchy without him or be even worse under the fractured National Transitional Council.

It’s widely thought that the threat of instability, reprisals and even NATO’s intervention in this conflict has bolstered support for Qaddafi in recent weeks, but there are many others, including those in Souq al-Juma’ah, who have little love for ‘the leader’, and are merely biding their time.