Armed civilians heighten Tripoli danger, cleric says

August 25, 2011

Nairobi, Kenya, August 25 (ENInews)--Thousands of small arms and light
weapons distributed to civilians by the government in Tripoli are adding to
the danger and instability of the city as rebel forces continued to fight
soldiers loyal to deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, a Libyan cleric has said.

The Rev. Amado Baranquel, a priest at St. Francis Roman Catholic Church,
the seat of the Vicariate of Tripoli, said the uncontrolled use of weapons
was confining civilians inside their houses and causing extreme fear. 

"They are using the guns any way they want. Some are using them for
looting," Baranquel told ENInews in a telephone interview on 25 August from
Tripoli. "We hope this (fighting) will end soon. Please pray for us."

Churches in Tripoli have closed down indefinitely, following the entry
into the city on 21 August of National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters
backed by the NATO alliance.

Several armed men entered the Catholic church on 22 August and took
hostage the people inside, according to Baranquel. "We raised our both hands.
They said they were looking for guns, but when they could not find any, they
took away the church's television set. We were not harmed," he said.

The reports that the government was arming civilian supporters in the
capital first emerged in February when protests against Gadhafi's 42-year rule
began. The government claimed it was building a people's defense against
foreign troops.

The church is running out of food, water and other essential supplies,
according to Baranguel. Agencies are warning of a looming humanitarian crisis
in the city if the situation does not change. In Tripoli, several medical
facilities report serious shortages of materials and staff, according to
Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders emergency coordinator
Jonathan Whittal, who is in the city.

"Some hospitals have run out of life-saving medication and equipment.
There is little electricity and insufficient fuel to run ambulances and some
crucial equipment," said Whittal in a news release on 25 August. Media
reports say more than 400 people have died and over 2000 injured in the battle
for Tripoli.

When the rebellion began, some Christian leaders expressed concerns over
the future of Christianity in the mainly Islamic country. In the 1969
revolution that brought Gadhafi to power, most church properties were seized. The
Roman Catholic Cathedral of Tripoli was made into a mosque in 1970, while
the cathedral in Benghazi was closed down. It was being restructured for a
possible conversion into a museum before the rebellion. 

"We are free to worship and celebrate mass in our two main two churches
here," the Rev. Daniel Farrugia, vicar general of the Vicariate of Tripoli
told ENInews in a recent interview. 

"We hope we will be free with the new leadership. Churches in Benghazi
city (the seat of the rebels) are continuing with no problems. I think we will
continue," added Baranguel.

During Gadhafi's reign, Christian churches were barred from carrying
conducting religious practices outside the church buildings. Catholics, for
example, were prohibited from reciting the rosary in public and distributing
Bibles was a criminal offense.