A boy sat in the back of a police pick-up truck kissing a portrait of the Libyan leader. An official convoy carrying foreign journalists drove close behind, part of government efforts to show Libya is firmly under Muammar Gaddafi’s control.
Sleepy towns and villages erupted in jubilation as the convoy passed through areas of western Libya, with crowds of flag-waving supporters whistling and shouting “God, Muammar, Libya, together”. Shots were fired into the air and trucks packed with supporters honked wildly and followed the procession from one town to another.
Yet behind the facade of adulation, signs of resistance were apparent during a 200-km (125-mile) drive from the capital Tripoli to the Tunisian border, Reuters reports.
In several towns, buildings stood torched after recent clashes between opponents and supporters of the Libyan leader. Many house fronts were covered with anti-government slogans along the road, which was heavily fortified with Gaddafi’s army tanks, anti-aircraft guns and truck-mounted rocket launchers.
The convoy made a detour around the rebel-held city of Zawiyah near Tripoli, where Gaddafi opponents, themselves armed with tanks and heavy machineguns, say they have repelled several army attempts to retake it.
At an oil refinery just outside Zawiyah, its city centre burned out after two weeks of clashes, managers told visiting reporters that it was business as usual.
“The refinery is running safely and steadily,” said Khalifa Sahli, the refinery’s operation director.
A day earlier, Libya’s top oil official told Reuters the country’s oil production had dropped significantly as a result of the unrest.
Inside the refinery, one of Libya’s biggest, the atmosphere appeared sleepy and only a handful of employees seemed to staff the main administration building.
On Libya’s dusty border with Tunisia, where thousands of refugees were stranded just two days ago, officials pointed at an orderly trickle of people as a sign of calming tensions.
“No problem, no problem,” one border official repeated, smiling, as journalists rushed to interview a few dozen Vietnamese and Bangladeshi refugees waiting to cross over.
The refugees looked happy to leave Libya behind after two weeks of turmoil.
“I go to Bangladesh,” said one labourer, Hiro Sheikh, as his companions struggled under the weight of big suitcases perched atop their heads. “I go to Bangladesh.”