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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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CNN's Matthew Chance rides highs, lows in Tripoli war zone

August 22, 2011 |  7:13 pm

Saifkadafi The giddy lows and highs of working as a foreign correspondent in a war zone have been on vivid display over the last 24 hours, courtesy of CNN's Matthew Chance.

As one of a couple of dozen Western journalists working out of the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, Chance has been in the midst of the Libyan revolution but strangely removed from it.

On Sunday night, loyalist troops kept Chance and fellow journalists penned up in the hotel, until the minders suddenly left, as much of the capital city appeared to fall to rebels. A few agitated soldiers remained behind,  shouting at the journalists and issuing dictates.

As Chance's furtive glances and pacing made clear, the journalists had no idea what to expect--fearing both Moammar Kadafi's troops and rebels who they worried might overrun them. The news crews hurriedly posted banners, at the hotel proclaiming "TV," in hopes of warding off an attack.

 The Rixos may be a five-star establishment, but journalists have reported for months feeling harassed and menaced by government minders, who sometimes forced them to leave on a moment's notice.

Chance reported that electricity had gone out during the day Monday and that food and water at the hotel were in short supply.  In the early evening he wrote via Twitter: "Mood in Rixos much darker than before. Everyone really worried about what's going to happen to us." After nightfall, he tried to sound a positive note: "On bright side, am with excellent group of journalists at Rixos. We are feeling our way around corridors with candles. No power."

The digital communiques give a sense of Chance's roller-coaster ride, including frustration at not being able to get out of the  hotel compound. Then, a breakthrough: Just before midnight in Tripoli, Monday, the journalist tweeted news that Kadafi's son Saif al-Islam would arrive at the hotel for a news conference. Two exclamation points accompanied the missive. But then another setback--a report that Saif had aborted the visit because of the power outage at the Rixos. Finally, an hour later, the news whipped back in the other direction, as Chance confirmed that he had visited with Saif, who had arrived at the hotel, in a caravan of armored SUVs.

The dictator's son claimed through a translator that he would complete a "walkabout" in Tripoli to prove that neighborhoods allegedly in rebel hands really were still in the government's control. He accused the enemy of lying and said  "to hell" with the International Criminal Court, which said it would bring the Kadafi family to justice.

About 2:30 a.m. Tripoli time, Chance concluded in another Twitter message (via his handle @mchancecnn) that Saif's appearance was a "major PR coup for Gadhafi – if the rebels lied about this – what can we believe?"

Chance is a senior international correspondent, based in Moscow. He has been near the front lines before--in Afghanistan in 2001, in Iraq and in 2008 on the Georgian-Russian war. He is a native of Britain and attended the University of London, earning a bachelor's degree in archaeology and art.

Chance remained locked in the hotel, but back in the reporting game. He transmitted a shadowy Twitter photo of Kadafi's son before the journalist presumably tried to get a few minutes of sleep.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: An image grab taken from the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya satellite television station shows Saif al-Islam Kadafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, speaking to journalists in Tripoli in the early hours of Tuesday. A CNN correspondent was one of those to bring the world news that Saif was not in the hands of rebels, as the anti-Kadafi forces had previously reported.  Credit: AFP / Getty Images