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One reporter's tale of pre-revolt Libya

By VBS staff
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Reporter locked down in Libya
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vice founder Shane Smith gains rare access to Libya as part of 2010 youth conference
  • Upon arrival, crew were assigned "minders" to monitor them, dictate their itineraries
  • Smith was placed under house arrest after sneaking out of hotel to tour Tripoli
RELATED TOPICS
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi

Editor's note: The staff at CNN.com has recently been intrigued by the journalism of Vice, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. VBS.TV is Vice's broadband television network. The reports, which are produced solely by Vice, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers.

Brooklyn, New York (VBS) -- Libya is the latest nation to experience the violent civil unrest that has swept North Africa since December. But in August, things were much different. In fact, the country was making steps to rectify its long-sullied international image.

One of these steps was devising a youth conference, to be held in Tripoli. We wanted to get inside the country for a long time, so when Vice founder Shane Smith learned of the event, he submitted his credentials and was invited to take part in the festivities.

It's notoriously difficult to gain entry into Libya, largely because Moammar Gadhafi has ruled the country with an iron fist since a 1969 coup in which he overtook the former king. Gadhafi has used the nation's vast oil resources to exert his influence on North Africa and beyond.

What was presented as a nationwide multimedia presentation on Libya's open-armed embrace of global youth turned out to be a thinly veiled propaganda symposium where speakers espoused pro-Gadhafi messages and anti-Zionist rhetoric.

It was very clear, however, that the event was organized to promote Gadhafi's goal of creating the United States of Africa, a federation of all or most African countries, which would theoretically operate under a single currency and be chaired by Gadhafi himself.

See the rest of Vice Guide to Travel: Libya at VBS.TV

"We get there, and it's completely disorganized," Smith said. "They had brought in Libyan citizens who were living in England, America and Canada to work for the conference. It's kind of like North Korea in that sense: They have such pull. 'Oh, you're Libyan? And you live in London? Well, you have to come back and work.' "

Soon after they arrived, Smith and his crew were assigned minders who watched them closely and dictated their itineraries. After the conference, Smith decided he wanted to take part in some sightseeing in Tripoli and sneaked off into the city while the men who were supposed to be watching him were distracted.

When Smith returned to the hotel, his minders were furious. They placed him and his crew under "house arrest" while the conference's other attendees caught flights back to their respective home countries.

 
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