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In Britain, Squatters Take Over Home Of Gadhafi's Son


The international community is still debating how to deal with Libya's leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. But a group of people in London had no trouble deciding what they wanted to do.

In fact, says NPR's Philip Reeves, they've already carried out their own invasion.

PHILIP REEVES: This is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Britain. It's not Beverley Hills, but it's close. Mansions around here in Hampstead, North London, routinely cost more than $15 million. England's rich and powerful have homes here. So does this man.

Mr. SAIF AL-ISLAM GADHAFI: We will never ever give up, and we will never ever surrender.

REEVES: Saif al-Islam is Gadhafi's second son. Saif used to be popular in London society. He was considered a reformer. He studied at the London School of Economics, which awarded him a Ph.D. He ran a foundation that gave that school several million dollars.

Times have changed. Saif joined his dictatorial father in the fight against Libya's rebels. The British have frozen his assets. If Saif were to sneak back to London today, he would not be happy.

MATT: We came here yesterday morning because we found out that this place was empty, and it was owned by Gadhafi's son.

REEVES: That's Matt. He's 24. Matt won't give his full name. He says he's worried about Gadhafi's henchmen. He belongs to a group called Topple the Tyrants. They've invaded Saif Gadhafi's eight-bedroom home and are squatting in it.

MATT: We're here in solidarity with the Libyan people because it's about the horrendous crimes that are being committed against them by the Gadhafi regime.

REEVES: Matt says the idea is to make sure the wealth that bought this house goes to the Libyan public.

MATT: And this property, yeah, it belongs to the Libyan people, and we're here to make sure that it isn't sold off and doesn't get squirreled away.

REEVES: Matt and his friends have already done some redecorating. A banner flutters from a dormer window. It's emblazoned with a picture of Colonel Gadhafi and the words: Out of Libya, out of London. Another sign simply says revolution. Saif Gadhafi's home sounds pretty lavish inside.

MATT: I was quite shocked and quite disgusted. I mean, it's actually insane. Ridiculously decadent. There's an indoor swimming pool here. There's Jacuzzi. There's all kinds of stuff in it. It's completely disgusting that, yeah, that Libyan funds have been used for this when people are starving.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: The squatters are stopping journalists from going inside Saif's house. Some of the group consider the media biased and won't be interviewed. One squatter, Hassan Kareshi(ph), was happy to chat. We met him climbing out of one of the windows and heading off in search of somewhere to dump the squatters' trash.

Mr. HASSAN KARESHI: (Unintelligible). We are looking for rubbish bins somewhere. I've gone a long way walking. Do you know somewhere (unintelligible)?

REEVES: That's not easy in a rich London neighborhood. The Libyan uprising is not Kareshi's first revolution. He's an Iranian who rose against the shah in 1979 and was horrified when Islamist radicals took over.

Mr. KARESHI: I think all these countries, they should be careful they don't do the same things happened in Iran in 1979. When these Islamists, when they get the power, they occupy everything, and then they may impose the Sharia law, which is very horrible thing, especially against a woman.

REEVES: The squatters say no one has tried to stop them occupying Saif Gadhafi's home - so far. Matt says he's heard reports of official-looking Libyans snooping around.

MATT: The other people in the house have seen people who they were pretty sure were from the Libyan Embassy, looking rather angry, turned up in kind of big black cars, tinted dark windows.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.