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Journalists trapped in Libya's Rixos hotel wait ... and hope

By Faith Karimi, CNN
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Pro-Gadhafi forces hold journalists
  • NEW: CNN's Matthew Chance at the hotel warns other journalists not to come
  • About 35 journalists, including from CNN, are trapped there
  • They prowl the hall ways with giant paintings of Moammar Gadhafi staring down at them
  • They sleep in hallways to avoid whizzing bullets

CNN's Matthew Chance is currently in the Rixos hotel -- follow him on Twitter for the latest updates from Tripoli.

(CNN) -- In its halcyon days, the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, Libya boasted of going the extra mile to make guests "feel privileged." It sent flowers and cooled towels to their rooms, and made Porsches and Jaguars -- even helicopters -- available at a moment's notice.

But by early Wednesday, the remaining guests at the luxury hotel in the Libyan capital were reduced to raiding cabinets for cheese and fruit.

About 35 journalists who were allowed into the North African country to cover the conflict with the blessing of the Moammar Gadhafi regime are trapped at the hotel for a fifth day.

And about five more journalists covering clashes in the area fled into the hotel Wednesday morning and were briefly barred from leaving, said CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, who is among those at the hotel. Four were later allowed to go, she saw.

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But armed Gadhafi loyalists ring the hotel's perimeter and patrol its corridors, barring most journalists there from leaving. It's for their protection, the guards say.

CNN's Matthew Chance, who is also at the hotel, urged other journalists in the city not to come for fear they, too, would be trapped.

"We are not being allowed to leave. We want to leave. We are obviously in a very fragile position," he said.

They have enough snack food and bottled water to last for several days, he explained.

"After that, we're going to be in trouble," he added.

So, as battle rages outside for control of Tripoli between pro-regime and rebel forces, the reporters can do little but sit and wait.

With no air-conditioning and sporadic electricity, they walk the halls with the glow of candlelight to guide them. Giant paintings of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi stare down at them from hotel walls. Snipers keep a wary eye from rooftops.

"The concern we have now is that we seem to be in one of the few remaining patches of territory in Libya which is still controlled by Gadhafi's forces," Chance said. "And so we're kind of very anxious about what might happen at this hotel in the hours ahead."

The reporters spend their days in helmets and bullet proof vests. At night, they sleep on bedsheets in the hallway to avoid shards of glass from windows shattered by gunfire.

"This is not a comfortable position, but ... all in good spirits," BBC correspondent Matthew Price tweeted Tuesday.

Chance said the journalists would like to "negotiate an exit," but have been prevented from doing so.

The reporters have put up white bed sheets from the top floor balconies of the hotel. In large black letters, they scrawled the words "TV, press, don't shoot" on them to leave no doubt they are impartial observers in the conflict.

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"Gadhafi loyalists have basically regarded the international media as being on the rebels' side in this conflict, even though that's obviously not the case," Chance said. "We're just here trying to report the government's side of things in this conflict."

The hotel has served as a de facto media hub approved by the regime for international journalists and scores of government officials who relocated their families there during the civil war.

It also made headlines along the way.

In March, Eman al-Obeidy, stormed the hotel in tears while journalists were having breakfast and said Gadhafi forces had raped her.

In May, Gadhafi himself made an unannounced appearance to hold a meeting with tribal leaders.

His sudden appearance, and the fact that the hotel is now being guarded so closely, has led to some speculation that Gadhafi himself is there, or that he has access to the hotel through secret tunnels from his bunker.

But Chance said he and other journalists had "scoured" the hotel "from top to bottom" and had seen no evidence of tunnels.

On Tuesday, Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, turned up to debunk reports that rebels had captured him.

Hours after the son's defiance stance, rebel fighters and throngs of citizens stormed the ruler's fortress compound in Bab al-Aziziya not far away.

Celebratory gunfire rang out as residents took off with souvenirs, including reams of documents and weapons.

But away from the action, the journalists waited as dawn gave way to another day Wednesday -- and more clashes erupted outside the hotel.

Chance said their goal is to avoid agitating the guards.

"We do not want to prompt any dangerous action," he said. "We are trying to stay as safe as possible."

He hopes the nightmare, as he called it, ends soon.

"In a fizzle," he said. "Not a bang."

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