TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan officials describe the Abu Salim district in the Libyan capital Tripoli as fervently pro-Gaddafi, but some residents seem more ambivalent about the man who has ruled their North African country for four decades.
“Some people like (Muammar) Gaddafi, some do not,” a man who gave his name as Ibrahim told Reuters in Abu Salim on Saturday. “Me? I don’t care. I just want to be left alone.”
After he spoke, a man came out of a stall on the other side of the alley chanting Gaddafi’s name. Ibrahim waved him off. “Ignore him,” he said, rolling his eyes and grinning broadly.
While the majority of more than a dozen people interviewed in a market in Abu Salim said they liked Gaddafi, the die-hard supporters whom state TV often depicts cheering him on to the percussion of automatic gunfire seemed very few on the ground.
Many were apathetic and one shop owner, who did not give his name, said people in the area pretend to support the Libyan ruler “because of fear and intimidation.”
“I’m pretty sure ordinary people will not fight to defend the regime,” he said. “We are very tired of Gaddafi.”
Libyan government minders strongly advise reporters not to venture into Abu Salim, saying its residents hate foreign journalists and that it is not safe to go without the protection of the Gaddafi government.
But in two hours Reuters reporters spent in a market, there was little sign of hostility apart from a scowl from one passerby.
A stall owner who gave his name as Khaled greeted a Western reporter with kisses on both cheeks, to raucous laughter from two friends. He then insisted the reporter take some prayer beads as a small gift from “the people of Abu Salim.”
The police presence in Abu Salim seemed light on Saturday, indicating the government feels confident of support in the area. Many stalls had pictures of Gaddafi in their windows and supporters said his rule had benefited Abu Salim residents.
“Everyone in Abu Salim likes Muammar Gaddafi. Our life is good because of him,” said a man giving his name as Ali, adding that rebels fighting Gaddafi for the past four months are “foreigners from Afghanistan and Egypt.”
Some were strongly against the NATO bombing campaign in support of the insurgents.
But there seemed to be little evidence of the fierce support the government says it has in Tripoli and beyond, with some more concerned with the impact of the war on their livelihoods.
A stall owner who gave his name as Mahmoud said the “NATO bombing is bad. NATO and Israel are the same thing.”
But when asked if he would fight for Gaddafi he shrugged and said he was too old.
In a deserted carpet shop in the market another stall owner, who gave his name as Mohammed, bemoaned his loss of customers. Other carpet shops in the area were similarly quiet, a sign people are less willing to spend money as the war drags on.
“Look, there is no one here,” he said. “This is not good for business. I just want it (the war) to end.”
Editing by Tim Cocks and Mark Heinrich