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Libyans in "Liberated" Eastern Cities Balance Self-Government While Supporting Anti-Government Resistance in Tripoli

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The humanitarian crisis in Libya is intensifying amidst escalating violence between rebels and forces loyal to the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Anti-government groups have seized control of more areas as they close in on the capital city, Tripoli. On Sunday, protesters claimed the town of Zawiyah, just 30 miles from the capital. As residents celebrated, one demonstrator called for Gaddafi's prosecution for ordering attacks on protesters.

Anti-government rebels are closing in on the Libyan capital city of Tripoli. Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat recently returned back to Egypt from Libya, where she spent five days reporting from cities in eastern Libya, where after days of intense clashes, residents have forced pro-Gaddafi loyalists out of town.

In the city of Benghazi, residents have turned now to the dual mission of rebuilding their communities while also supporting the anti-government efforts throughout the country, especially in Tripoli where Gaddafi's forces remain strong.

"There is a sense that Gaddafi could do anything to people [in Tripoli] and there is a real sense of fear," Kamat told Democracy Now! in her report Feb. 28. "But, I think people are also trying to see what they can do to manage their city and also to support their friends and families in Tripoli who are still under siege."

"There's graffiti at your asking people to try and build a new Libya and take care of their city," Kamat reports. "Residents have taken complete charge of the city for the first time in 43 years. People are in shock that they have complete control of their lives and Gaddafi's forces are nowhere to be seen."

In the newly liberated city of Benghazi where pro-Gaddafi forces have been ousted, residents are organizing a self-government structures to manage the city. One group calling itself the Coalition of the February 17 Revolution--which is made up of doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, workers, students--just established a city council to manage the day-to-day activities of the city.

Kamat interviewed two female Libyan attorneys, Salwa Bugaighis and Hanaa Al-Gallal, who are both very involved in the Coalition.

Estimates of the death toll in Libya have reached at least 2,000, and more than 100,000 people are believed to have fled the country into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. Democracy Now! spoke with Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, who has just returned from the Libya-Tunisia border.

"The border has been flooded with foreign migrant workers leaving Libya, overwhelmingly Tunisian and Egyptian workers," Whitson says. "There have been about 40,000 who have left the western border of Libya, and the Egyptians, who are about 20,000 of those, have been, by and large, stranded because the Egyptian government has not been able to prepare the evacuation of their nationals from Tunisia. And they've been there for several days, in tents, in very cold, rainy weather. And they're increasingly frustrated and upset at being stuck after a very stressful journey through Libya."

For the complete transcripts of the interviews and for more reporting on the situation in Libya, visit Democracy Now! and sign-up for our daily news digest email. Join us on Facebook.