Libyans in California raise money for Gadhafi's victims

The Sacramento BeeMarch 21, 2011 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Local Libyans raised funds Sunday for people in their homeland who are desperate for medical care after being wounded by Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

They told The Bee they are praying for the dictator's end to come soon. But relatives in Libya expressed fear over the country's uncertain future. Many remain terrified of Gadhafi, known for torturing and killing Libyan citizens.

Several leaders in Sacramento's 200-member Libyan community talked about the conflict that has claimed as many as 8,000 lives since peaceful protests began Feb. 15 after populist revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Salem Mohamed – a weight-lifting champion who lifted 355 pounds in the clean and jerk – fled Libya after his friend Farhat Haleb was hanged in the square of Zuwara in 1984.

"Gadhafi hanged six people during the month of Ramadan and put those images on TV," Mohamed said. "My mother-in-law passed out after seeing those images, and I knew I had to flee."

Now a Muslim chaplain for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Mohamed said he and Haleb "wanted a society based on respect, human rights, the rule of law – not a country controlled by fear and iron fists."

He was jubilant Sunday over the Western airstrikes but said, "My heart is broken since we are dealing with a delusional, unpredictable person."

Mohamed had a troubling conversation with his sister in Tripoli after the United Nations imposed the no-fly zone. "She said, 'The Westerners are coming to kill us, rape our women and seize our oil.' "

He said he tried to reason with her, telling her to not be afraid, denouncing Gadhafi's claims that al-Qaida is behind the uprising.

"But she said, 'No, he's our leader. If it had not been for him we would have been destroyed,' " Mohamed said. "She's frantic right now, she's hearing those bombs. That makes me even madder. Gadhafi's brainwashed the people through all media, isolating them from the rest of the world, similar to North Korea."

When the protests started, Gadhafi gave cash to families, telling everyone, "Just be quiet, I'm going to give you more," said Mohamed, who has followed the uprising through limited social media.

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