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.


"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.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles