Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trapped at the Bar at the Rixos Hotel

Preacher Dr. KA Paul and former Congressman Walter Fontroy

Trapped at the Rixos Hotel

Dr. Paul and former US Congressman Walter Fontroy among those trapped.

About 35 foreign nationals are trapped in Tripoli's Rixos Hotel, one of the areas where forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi are resisting rebel attempts to seize full control of the Libyan capital.

Most of them are foreign journalists including the BBC's Matthew Price who spoke to Evan Davis of the BBC Today programme, on Wednesday morning.

Matthew, just describe what the situation is at the hotel at the moment.

This is day five of what you may be able to call the siege of the Rixos Hotel. It's a desperate situation for about 35 foreign nationals; Brits, Americans, there is a US congressman here, there's an Indian parliamentarian here. The situation deteriorated massively overnight when it became clear that we were unable to leave the hotel of our own free will.

Gunmen were roaming around the corridors, some of them it seemed, trained professional Gaddafi soldiers, snipers were on the roof. We believe there are still snipers on the roof of the hotel and effectively our movements are curtailed.

The ITN cameraman just had an AK-47 pulled on him - a guard approached him and pushed him back, pointing the gun towards him. He is OK.

Heavy gunfire has been heard around the hotel
That ended amicably, that moment of tension, but still there's a huge amount of apprehension and nervousness among the journalists stuck here in this hotel.

It's desperately hard to see how we get out at this stage.

Is that because there are guards at the door who won't let you out, or is that because you are scared to walk into the streets around the hotel because there are random gunmen who might shoot at you?

The guard who pointed and walked up to the ITN cameramen with the AK-47 and shouted at him to get back was doing so because the cameraman was trying to walk out of the hotel.

There's a central lobby area and then you walk out into a circular car park, and then it's about 150m (490ft) or so to a gate. There are still guards close to the periphery and around that gate.

But it became clear when this cameraman walked towards them just 20 or 30m (65-100ft) from the front door of the hotel that they didn't want that to happen. So, it's impossible it seems for us to get past the guards, I think also impossible for us to know what is in the streets beyond the hotel.

Food, water, electricity?

Some of the colleagues in the hotel at this moment actually believed that their lives were in direct threat about a week ago and ever since have been keeping their heads down”

Matthew Price
Running out; drinking water and food certainly running out. The electricity is on in parts of the hotel but in terms of running water in the hotel and the sanitation here: Look, it's not yet at crisis point - and hopefully this will be resolved before it is - but it's getting pretty miserable here.

You can only imagine the sort of tension which the foreigners here, the journalists here, find themselves feeling at the moment.

One of my colleagues, the BBC cameraman here, said that for every bit of good news we seem to get, we were then knocked back by another bit of bad news. There's been moments when we have thought we've been on the verge of getting out of here and then all of a sudden we find out that it's just not possible.

Any idea what the objectives of the guards are? What are they hanging on for? Why aren't they melting away as so many of the other staff did, just trying to disappear to protect their own backs?

Well, some of them have been saying that they are going to defend their country and their city. There's one man who, some here who speak Arabic have been getting along with rather well... who was talking about his three-year-old son back home and the journalists who spoke Arabic were saying to him: "You should put down your weapon and just go home, don't be a part of this. It's all over."

Food and drinking water are in short supply in the Rixos
And he's saying: "No, no, no; we should fight for our country, we need to fight for our leader." So, you know, call it fanaticism... I suppose the point is there has been four decades of authoritarian rule here in which a large section of the population has believed everything they have been told by the leadership.

You'll remember yesterday I was on the programme having just spoken to Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's second son - who was smiling broadly... brimming with confidence, full of passion, saying that we are winning the fight for Tripoli.

It's clear that they weren't winning the fight for Tripoli and they haven't won the fight for Tripoli. They have lost it in an almighty fashion over four days of fighting.

Do they know that there? Are you aware of what's going on in the rest of the city, stuck in this hotel?

Well, the televisions are all off, cable and satellite TV has all gone down amid some of the gunfire that has been coming in across the hotel.

Preacher Dr KA Paul, left, and ex-US Congressman Walter Fontroy are among those trapped
Not since late last night, but [there has been] an awful lot of gunfire around the hotel - and mortar fire and [rocket-propelled grenade] fire - and that seems to have knocked out the satellite TV.

So, no pictures of that. We thought that played in our favour, actually, because the foreign media have been accused by Colonel Gaddafi and his spokespeople over the conflict of being spies, of being affiliated with Nato.

Some of the colleagues in the hotel at this moment actually believed that their lives were in direct threat about a week ago and ever since have been keeping their heads down, because they were particularly targeted by members of the regime who believed that their satellite dish was feeding data to Nato.

Libya: the siege of the Rixos hotel

Dozens of journalists and politicians, including around a dozen Britons, are being held hostage in Tripoli's five-star Rixos hotel by gunmen loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi.

By Andy Bloxham8:46AM BST 24 Aug 2011

he 35 hostages have been barred from leaving the building by gunmen brandishing AK-47s who have vowed to defend their country against rebels.

Food and water are running out, gunmen are "roaming the corridors" and snipers have been posted on the roof. Electrical power has also died in parts of the hotel.

Those inside include journalists from the BBC and ITN, as well as an Indian member of parliament and the former US congressman Walter Fauntroy.

The Foreign Office is considering what action to take but if the gunmen remain defiant and the hostages are not released, they are likely to have to consider a rescue by special forces such as the SAS.

The building has been the base for the pro-Gaddafi television station in the Libyan capital and it is where foreign journalists reporting the regime's activities were forced to stay.

Libya: Former US Congressman Walter Fauntroy trapped in Rixos Hotel 24 Aug 2011
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The fortress that nurtured Gaddafi's delusions 23 Aug 2011
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Rebels on the track of Gaddafi 23 Aug 2011
Rebels ride Col Gaddafi's golf buggy 23 Aug 2011

Now, however, it appears they could be used as human shields in any last-ditch defence of the building by loyalists.

There were unconfirmed reports that tunnels linked Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound to the Rixos, raising speculation that the deposed Libyan leader might be hiding close to the hostages.
Matthew Price, of the BBC, told Radio 4's Today programme: "It's a desperate situation.

"The conditions deteriorated massively overnight. There are gunmen roaming around the corridors and there are snipers on the roof.

"An ITN cameraman had an AK-47 pointed at him because he tried to leave.

"The guards say they are going to defend their country and their city.

"There's a huge amount of apprehension. It's desperately hard to see how we get out at this stage."

Matthew Chance, a journalist with the US broadcaster CNN, tweeted: "hoping this nightmare will end in a fizzle - not a bang."

Gunfire in the surrounding streets can be heard from inside the building and the hostages have taken to wearing their flak jackets and carrying helmets around the clock.

Libyan media liaison officers who were previously described as "quiet and polite" are now carrying weapons. Moussa Ibrahim, the internationally recognised spokesman of the regime, has left with his German wife and child.

#Rixos4 hoping this nightmare will end in a fizzle - not a bang.

less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply
Matthew Chance

Journalists in the hotel have been accused of feeding information to Nato forces to be used in strikes against Gaddafi's forces.

The hotel was also the temporary home of some of the children and wives of Gaddafi's senior officials but they were allowed to leave two days ago.

The media translators and state television staff have also quietly slipped out of the hotel.
Dario Lopez-Mills, who works for the US agency Associated Press, described the situation as a "$400-a-night prison, with a spa but no power or air conditioning, with candlelight but no romance. With the sound of machine gunfire outside and bullets whistling past the windows".

He added: "The Rixos has been so cut off that we often haven't even been able to tell who was in control of the streets outside. Over the weekend, the area appeared to be in government hands. As rebels approached, our minders got jittery, then belligerent.

"The smell of gunpowder hangs in the thick heat, along with sweat and a little fear. When the shooting is most intense, we take refuge in the hotel's basement conference rooms.

"Two satellite telephones set up on a balcony were destroyed by gunfire, so we've stopped transmitting our material. We wait and worry the gunmen could turn hostile at any moment.
"There is no power and no running water. On Monday we ate bread and butter. On Tuesday, the cook made french fries. Bottled water is running low.

"We don't know when it's going to end, and we see little of what happens."

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "There's always a plan. We are aware of the situation."

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