New Zealand Libyans show solidarity with countrymen

By Paul Harper

The Arab world is "awaking now", a Libyan in New Zealand says, as the violence in his homeland continues to escalate.

As people across the region take to the streets to speak out against their oppressive regimes, a Wellington businessman - who asked not to be named for fears his family in Libya would be targeted - is calling on New Zealanders to join Libyans today as they show solidarity with their countrymen.

The Rally for Libya will take place in Midland Park in Wellington at midday.

The protests in Libya is one of a wave of uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, however the regime's response in Libya has been arguably the bloodiest so far.

There are reports airstrikes have been launched against civilians in the capital Tripoli and Misurata, and people in the streets have been shot dead by the regime's military.

He said the people of the region were now demanding the freedoms enjoyed in the West.

"We are 250 years behind - the whole region is awaking now," he says.

"The people have learnt in the region to speak. The people want change."

The man, the youngest of eight children, grew up in a wealthy family. However in 1978, he says Gaddafi nationalised the country's resources, including his father's heavy machinery spare parts warehouse and his family's farm.

"We were a happy family - they took our happiness off us."

He described life in Libya as "someone always looking over your shoulder".

"There is no freedom there. No freedom of speech, no human rights, no freedom to express yourself, no freedom of press."

He left Libya in 1998 in search of a fresh start.

"I lived for 18 months in Egypt. I learnt from the Egyptians how I could be more independent," he says. "We share the same thing - we both want freedom."

He then moved to New Zealand, which he says was the best country for him to come.

"I'm really grateful I live in a free country. I've never looked back. I've made a business here in New Zealand, I've been really successful."

Following the news has been traumatic for him and his wife, who is from Tripoli.

"I can't sleep. My wife is in tears. She wants to go home now, she's worried about her family," he says.

"The worst thing is we can't get hold of Libya."

The 46-year-old says he has received a lot support from Kiwis since violence broke out in his homeland.

He says the international media is struggling to get details out of Libya and understands the actual death toll to be more than 900.

"In Benghazi, not last night but the night before, 350 people died. I have spoken to people there - I could hear the shots," he said.

He says criminals have been released by the regime to repress the protests, as members of the country's defence force desert and join protesters.

He is "100 percent confident" Colonel Gaddafi would be gone in "days".

"Is he going to fight six to seven million people? No, he can't," he says. "He has taken the dignity off our people - we are proud Arab people.

"He is an absolute shame - I'm gutted for the country."

He is also confident there are capable leaders to take over the country post-Gaddafi.

"The political opposition leaders are very moderate minded and highly educated - these guys can lead the country.

"We are not worried about who will rule us - we want freedom."

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