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Riding the Wave in Libya: A War Correspondent’s Experience

FOX News’ veteran reporter and war correspondent, Steve Harrigan, is currently reporting from Tripoli, Libya as the rebels gain control and Qaddafi’s regime collapses. Harrigan has endured the elements while in Libya — sleeping on the ground, facing pro-Qaddafi forces with guns, navigating the rebel crowds, getting news from locals, seeking shelter amidst the fighting — all the while reporting live on FOX News. He found a moment to answer some questions about his experience.

 

Used with permission of FOX News

 

Interview with FOX News Channel’s Middle Eastern correspondent, Steve Harrigan

What is the general mood of the populace in Libya? I get the impression that people are mostly really scared that they might be caught on the wrong side, so they don;t really know how to react to events?

On the street the mood is a mix of joy and pride. You can see the pride in how the rebels walk with their weapons. They feel like they have just won a war, defeated a dictator, liberated a country. Behind closed doors among Gaddhafi supporters there is probably real fear of reprisals, but I have not seen it yet.

What are the biggest threats to the population? Is the everyday economy holding up? Are people managing to feed and shelter themselves, find medical care — basically survive?

Food, gasoline and medical care are in short supply. Doctors are needed not just for the wounded, but for ordinary events like C-sections. Until the fighting stops it is hard to move around or bring in help. The aid workers that are here now are risking their lives.

Here is an interview of Harrigan reporting outside the hotel yesterday:

 

We hear that not a lot is known about who the rebels really are. Is it a general uprising, or is there a certain faction that is likely to emerge as the new regime?

The coalition leading the opposition is a mix of ideologies and includes former regime members and expats. Opposition to Gaddhafi has kept them together, but we expect a power struggle once the fighting slows. Establishing security, reigning in young fighters and handling billions of dollars in unfrozen assets –honestly there will be tremendous challenges.

What is your impression about how the people feel about the intervention of NATO forces?

I find real gratitude from most people I’ve talked to about NATO’s role. Rebels have waived us through their checkpoints. I do sense, despite the enormous help from NATO, this is a war the rebels feel they deserve the credit for winning.

What have been some of the biggest challenges for the media in Libya, international and local?

The biggest challenge is not to get killed. Next is not to report false information, easy to do when many sides exaggerate or deliberately lie. Third is to get to where you need to get to on time. Not easy with checkpoints, visas, permission, gas shortage and fighting.

What was the most harrowing moment for you covering this story?

It is easy to get hurt by accident in a war zone. There are a lot of people here carrying weapons that are not used to carrying weapons. Twice so far rifles have discharged next to me due to an operator error, trying to clear or load a Kalashnikov. And one car turned around and shot at us after my driver honked at him. So you have to be extra patient in a war zone. Imagine trying to explain you got shot for honking.

How were you treated by pro-regime and rebel forces, respectively? How did ordinary people treat you?

I’ve had to rent homes or rooms from strangers, sometimes to get out of the fighting. I’m struck again how open people are to strangers and how hospitable they have been. Hospitality is deep here. One young man brought us a bowl of chicken and spaghetti when we were very hungry. At the main square here a man came up and handed me some bananas without saying a word. It is memorable.

If there was one message you would share with the world about what you have experienced in Libya — about the story of this uprising — what would it be?

It is pretty amazing right now, isn’t it? 42 years in fear, and then to throw it off. I try to imagine from Libyans’ point of view how exciting this moment must be. I also try to think of it in terms of my own country’s history. Some people you probably never will hear about, how they put their lives on the line to right a wrong. I respect that.

You were in Afghanistan and Iraq shortly after 9/11, on the ground in New Orleans during Katrina, and you have covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where is your next assignment?

One wave at a time.

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