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Libya's rebels struggle to control Tripoli

Libya's rebels cracked down on looting and tried to prevent vigilante justice across the capital today as the National Transitional Council began setting up shop.

By Gert Van LangendonckCorrespondent, Correspondent / August 26, 2011

Libyan youths carry away boxes of computer equipment in the Abu Salim district of Tripoli, Libya, Friday, Aug. 26.

Francois Mori/AP

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Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya

At Bab Al-Azizya, Muammar Qaddafi’s sprawling compound in the center of Tripoli, the pillaging of regime memorabilia was down to the colonel’s dirty laundry this morning. But a few miles to the south, in the Abu Salim neighborhood, looting on an industrial scale had just started.

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A traffic jam formed at the entrance to a large warehouse filled to the rafters with computers, printers, air conditioning units, and refrigerators. Despite the lingering danger of Qaddafi loyalist snipers in the surrounding buildings, people without transportation could be seen carting off refrigerators on their backs.

“This warehouse used to be the property of the Qaddafis; now it belongs to the Libyan people,” said one man armed with an AK-47.

The looting frenzy continued until a convoy of rebel soldiers in pick-up trucks pulled up outside the warehouse. The fighters angrily shot in the air and ordered people to return the looted appliances.

“This is haram!” shouted an angry rebel, using the Arabic word that means forbidden by Islam.

A local resident attempted to chase away foreign journalists at the scene. “This is bad for my country,” he said. “We are not like the Qaddafis; we are not thieves.”

The scene illustrated the limbo that the Libyan capital has found itself in this week, after the rebel army came down from Libya's western mountains and routed the seemingly entrenched Qaddafi army in a lightning offensive.

It is not quite chaos, and the looting is by no means widespread. But there is a sense of anarchy as rebel fighters, strained by months of street fighting – some in casts and bandages – try to maintain some semblance of order as the National Transitional Council (NTC) sets up shop in the capital.

The NTC held a press conference in Tripoli last night, formally announcing that it was moving its base of operations from the eastern city of Benghazi to Tripoli. The council, which has been recognized by Western governments as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, has laid out detailed plans for the transition period.

Those plans include securing the capital, establishing a government presence in Tripoli, and transitioning to an elected government within eight months. They also outline a national reconciliation program to make sure Qaddafi supporters have a place in society, as well as just trials for those who committed crimes during his regime.

“If this program goes as hoped, we’re going to secure a good future for Libyans,” NTC member Mustafa Almanea told the Monitor in the wee hours of Thursday morning, as the Benghazi-based concil prepared for the move. The road map for the next year also includes a plan to transition civilian fighters who joined the revolution either into the military or back into civilian life, to get guns out of the hands of regular Libyans.

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