Libyan Rebels Ask Police To Return To Tripoli

Aug 31, 2011
Originally published on August 31, 2011 10:54 am
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When rebels moved into Libya's capital, Tripoli, last week, police disappeared from the streets. Now, some are returning to work at the request of the rebels transitional national council. The rebels want the cops back even though they were linked to Moammar Gadhafi's repressive regime. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Tripoli.

JASON BEAUBIEN: In front of the main police station in the Souka Joumah neighborhood of Tripoli, there are two roadblocks right next to each other. Young bearded rebels in street clothes, swinging AK-47s monitor the eastbound traffic. Libyan police in pale blue shirts and black berets monitor the traffic that's heading west. Just a few days ago there were no police in uniform on the streets of Tripoli.

Inside the station Usama Alzawi is the new police chief of Souka Joumah. He says the police are a bit scared to go back out in public.

Mr. USAMA ALZAWI (Police Chief, Souka Joumah): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: In the past, the relationship between the police officers and the civilians was not very good, Alzawi says. But now the relationship will be good God-willing.

Forty year old Alzawi used to be a customs administrator at the port. Last week people in the neighborhood decided he should be the new police chief because, as one of them says, he's a trustworthy guy. The previous police chief was from a town in Eastern Libya, hundreds of miles from the capital. Alzawi says this was a tactic to force the police chiefs to be loyal to the Moammar Gadhafi regime and not to the local residents.

In the final months before the fall of Gadhafi, many police and other civil servants weren't paid. Alzawi says he and the other officers continue to work for free right now and it's unclear how or when the officers will get their salaries.

Mr. ALZAWI: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: With money or without money, we are staying here, Alzawi says.

The Transitional National Council, the new government of the rebels, faces huge challenges in gaining control over Libya. Much of the bureaucratic structure of the Gadhafi dictatorship has literally been destroyed over the last week. Offices have been ransacked. Employees have fled. The rebels need to figure out how to manage Libya's oil production, pay pensions, pick up the garbage. In Tripoli, they face the immediate tasks of restarting the city's water supply, reopening the airport and clearing the streets. Yesterday, the rebels' Interior Minister, Ahmed Darrat, however, said one of the top priorities is restoring security across the capital.

Mr. AHMED DARRAT (Interior Minister, Libya): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We have put out a call out for all security personnel to go back to their jobs and they have responded to the call, Darrat said.

They sent out the call by cell phone text message. Darrat said the rebel leadership has a security plan for Tripoli that involves pulling the rebels off the streets, integrating them in to a new national military, and rebuilding a civilian police force across the city.

Mr. DARRAT: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: And we hope, he says, we will finally secure stability in our beloved capital.

(Soundbite of traffic honking)

BEAUBIEN: In downtown Tripoli, shops are closed this morning for the Eid el-Fitr holiday. Rebels have been firing their weapons in the air in celebration of their victory over Gadhafi. Around the city, there are a few unarmed police officers out on a few corners. Residents say it's reassuring to see the cops back on the streets. One businessman, Tarik Murbum, says it's a sign, that after the fierce battle for Tripoli, life is getting back to normal.

Mr. TARIK MURBUM: Yeah, we haven't seen them for 10 days. This is the first day they start working. And they are really very friendly and very kind, because they are giving us a chance to feel safely and peacefully, you see.

BEAUBIEN: The new police chief in Souka Joumah however warns that eventually all these officers are going to need to get paid. He thinks they can wait a couple of months for their salaries. But so far, it isn't even clear what the governmental structure will look like to issue their pay checks.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tripoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.