Journalist tour a battlefield in Libya, rebels retreat in the east

Times photographer Rick Loomis and Luis Sinco are in Libya covering the conflict. Sinco is in rebel-held territory in the east and Loomis is with a government-sponsored tour of journalists in the west. Loomis filed this report about his day visiting Zawiya, near Tripoli, days after heavy fighting there:

On Friday two buses and a few vans full of journalists were taken about 30 miles west of Tripoli, the capital, to Zawiya. The city was taken over by rebels at one point but fierce fighting by government forces defeated those trying to spark a revolution in the country.

Though the battle is thought to have ended more than two days ago the government went through a substantial effort to try to clean up some of the damage before allowing journalists to visit. Burned out cars and tanks were hauled away from the main square to the back of a nearby building. When journalists discovered the scene, soldiers rushed to to keep them from filming the destruction.

Government minders preferred to keep journalists focused on flag-waving pro-government supporters who were curiously everywhere on the square, though the rest of the city appeared deserted. Green and white fabric was hung from top to bottom of several multistory buildings in an effort to cover the damage from heavy shelling. Fresh paint ineffectively covered bullet-riddled walls.

After the visit, in which journalists were prevented from wandering away from the main square, they were taken back to a hotel in Tripoli where most of them are staying. Next up, Ras Lanuf, a city the government says it recently recaptured from the rebels. Government minders are trying to organize a flight there on Saturday.