Monday 18 December 2017

Hotel guards finally see the light as regime crumbles

Andrew Gilligan in Tripoli

To the very end, indeed well beyond the end, the Rixos hotel was where the Gaddafi regime gave the five-star finger to the rest of the world.

Yesterday, three days after the rest of Tripoli, its fantasy universe finally collapsed after its guards realised that they had been as isolated from reality as the 35 westerners they were holding hostage.

CNN's Matthew Chance, one of those freed yesterday afternoon, said that some of his colleagues were "weeping with relief" as they were at last able to walk out of the mink-lined prison where some had spent up to a month.

Of his guards, he said: "They were cut off from information as much as we were.

"They had no idea that the city had fallen around them. They took a lot of convincing that this was a dead end, but once they were convinced, there was a sea change."

Over the last six months, journalists have endured the rants of regime spokesmen and spent hundreds of thousands on its extravagant bills to be in Tripoli when the end came.

But when that moment finally arrived, they were all trapped, kept inside by armed men who remained loyal to the Gaddafi regime while the uprising unfolded everywhere else.

Even as Gaddafi's own bunker was overrun, the Rixos guards stayed at their posts. The building was also surrounded by snipers.

One of the captives, Tadek Markowski, a journalist with the American Fox news network, said it was "fair enough to describe this as a hostage situation".

When another of the captives, Reuters' Missy Ryan, tried to erect a satellite dish on her balcony, a sniper shot a bullet. An ITN journalist had a Kalashnikov pointed at him when he tried to leave.

Earlier yesterday, the situation for those captives -- most of them journalists -- had grown ever more serious.

In the afternoon, in a generally calmer Tripoli, the Rixos had still been hostile territory. Frequent gunfire and two huge explosions were heard.

As worries started to mount, the authorities did consider action to rescue the Rixos captives in a city almost without authority.

Special forces and royal marines were stationed offshore on the British warship HMS Ocean, and contingency plans were being prepared.

But in the end, the situation was saved by the intervention not of troops, but of reality. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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