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Lobdell: Newport resident recounts tale of Libya's unrest

February 28, 2011|By William Lobdell

Just 10 days ago, I received an upbeat e-mail from Libya. Dave Peterson, a married Newport Beach father of three and casual acquaintance of mine, thought I might be interested in what he was witnessing in Tripoli.

Dave, 51, who works as the project director for a $200-million hotel project there, said that despite the unrest in eastern Libya, Tripoli, the Libyan capital, at the time appeared safe.

"The demonstrations in Tripoli have been all pro-government," he wrote. "The people in Tripoli seem to support Kadafi. This is truly a socialist state. The people get a monthly stipend, goods and services are subsidized (it costs $8 to fill the Hyundai Tucson I drive here), and government workers get interest-free, 100-year loans. At passport control in the Tripoli Airport is a large sign that reads 'Partners not Wage Earners.'"

Dave's apartment is about 150 yards from Green Square, where he said pro-government crowds of 3,000 had been gathered each day.

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"If you think the Fourth of July display over the Back Bay is impressive, well, you've not seen the Green Square in February!" he wrote. "I went out a couple nights with a co-worker who is an ex-professional rugby player from the U.K. to check things out. We were the only two obvious foreigners and attracted a little attention, but we didn't feel threatened. I want to emphasize that at no time since the demonstrations started in Tripoli have I felt particularly unsafe."

The next day, it all changed.

His wife of 27 years, Anne, e-mailed him from Newport Beach and gave him the latest news of the growing rebellion. With only state television newscasts to watch, Dave couldn't get a good sense of what was really happening — or if he was in danger and needed to flee the country.

Through a series of e-mail exchanges with his wife, some delayed because of spotty Internet service, Dave developed a contingency plan. He would contact the U.S. Embassy and move at daybreak to a friend's apartment three miles from Green Square.

Soon enough, Dave saw first-hand that the violence had reached Tripoli.

"Wow, the [stuff] hit the fan in a hurry there," Dave wrote in a later e-mail to me. "I was awakened by chaos and machine-gun fire."

Embassy officials told him, in so many words, that he was on his own.

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