Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tripoli Sept. 1 2009 - Sept. 1 2011

Libyans attending Eid al-Fitr prayers in Tripoli's Martyrs Square Wednesday

Two years ago Col. Gadhafi held a major celebration to honor the 40th anniversary of his coup at Green Square, including a day long parade that included floats, military units and even bagpipers from New Zealand. Today Gadhafi is on the run, gone underground in hiding and Green Square is known as Martyr's Square.

For this day, the Libyans appeared to forget there is a war on as tens of thousands gathered at Martyrs' Square, renamed from Green Square in the Al Qathafi era in the heart of the Libyan capital, Tripoli to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast.

They knelt in prayer in the same square that the fugitive dictator, Muammar Al Qathafi was going to use on Thursday to mark the 42nd year of his rule at the First of September Revolution.

The worshippers who packed the square rejoiced at the collapse of their former leader and his rule, chanting "Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), Libya is free."

Men, women and children decked out in their holiday best, had begun to pour into the Square since dawn. Women ululated in triumph and spontaneous cries of joy erupted. Many still under 40, who remember no one else by Al Qathafi as their ruler, openly praised God for freeing them of the dictator.

They described the day as their best holiday of their life. Al Qathafi made us hate our lives ... We come here to express our joy at the end of 42 years of repression and deprivation," said one.

An imam leading the dawn prayer at the square urged all Libyans to stand united and hailed the ouster of "the tyrant Al Qathafi", prompting jeers from the crowd at the mention of the former leader's name.

But the war is not over yet, with Al Qathafi on the run and his loyalists defying an ultimatum set by Libya's interim council.

Rebel forces had set up a security belt around the square, as armed guards patrolled the area and shooters took positions on rooftops overlooking the gathering which ended peacefully later in the morning.

The Eid celebrations in Tripoli began late night Tuesday with bursts of red tracer rounds fired into the sky as a substitute for fireworks.

A man by the name of Amari Abdulla, 24, reportedly told AFP: “This is the first time we have felt relaxed in 42 years. "We will celebrate as in the past but this time it is simply better. It is a new Libya."

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chief of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), said in an interview published Wednesday by Egypt's state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that he wanted Al Qathafi arrested alive so he could be brought to justice.

"I believe he is in Libya, and I hope he is arrested alive so he can be brought before a fair trial for his crimes against the Libyan people," he said.

Abdul Jalil on Tuesday gave the loyalists until Saturday to surrender or face the "final battle" of a more than six-month uprising against Al Qathafi's autocratic regime.

The rebel leader told reporters in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi the ultimatum was offered to mark the Eid al-Fitr feast.

Although Al Qathafi has rejected the ultimatum, sources have said that talks are under way with civic and tribal leaders in a number of towns, including Sirte, in an effort to avoid bloodshed, but more fighting could be imminent as rebel fighters massed to the east and west of the town.

"From Saturday, if no peaceful solution is in sight on the ground, we will resort to military force," Abdel Jalil said, warning that Al Qathafi "is not finished yet."

Meanwhile, as some 60 nations prepared for a Paris aid conference on the war-battered country's future administration, the National Transitional Council was expecting the European Union to lift its sanctions against Libya's ports and 22 economic entities including some oil companies by Friday.

It follows an agreement in principle reached on Wednesday, which governments formally expect to adopt on Thursday, the diplomats said. The sanctions will be lifted on Friday when the move is published in the EU's Official Journal

In another development, with the Libyan rebels claiming to be closing in on Muammar Al Qathafi, human rights activists and lawyers are urging them to turn the former leader over to the International Criminal Court for trial and not attempt to mete out justice themselves.

Leading the calls is the court's Argentine prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has charged Al Qathafi, along with the long-time leader's son Seif al-Islam and the regime's intelligence chief Abdullah Al-Sanoussi with unleashing a campaign of murder and torture since February that unsuccessfully aimed at snuffing out anti-government protests.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on leaders meeting on Thursday in Paris to also push the rebel leaders to surrender Al Qathafi to The Hague-based international court if he is captured.

Libya conflict: Eid lull lets Tripoli ponder future

By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

Tripoli's soundtrack this morning was a mix of gunfire and prayers.

From early on, mosque loudspeakers were buzzing across the city's sprawling skyline to mark the feast of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

As the sun rose higher the words of the Koran merged with the clatter of gunfire.

Libyans have an unfortunate habit of firing their guns in the air when they are happy, sad or angry - and all three emotions are on display here at the moment.

It is always the way as a war ends, for winners, losers and the bereaved.

And here in Tripoli it does feel as if the war is over, even though fighting is expected to resume elsewhere in this huge country after what appears to be a pause for Eid.

Anti-Gaddafi forces are squeezing Sirte, Col Gaddafi's hometown, from east and west. They have issued an ultimatum to the Gaddafi loyalists to surrender before the end of the feast or face the consequences.

It is clear, though, that the rebels have some way to go before they can claim to be the masters everywhere.

No 'normality'
Col Gaddafi's wife, pregnant daughter and two of his sons, as well as their families and retinues, were able to drive across a big stretch of Libya to get to the Algerian border.

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[In Tunisia and Egypt], the promise of the spring has faded. The new powers in Libya would do well to learn their lessons”

The furious reaction of the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council (NTC) to Algeria's decision to give the family sanctuary confirms that its men would have stopped them, had it been possible.

It is wrong to talk about a return to normality in Tripoli, because Col Gaddafi dominated everything until just over a week ago. Residents of the city are trying to work out just what normal life will be without him.

Libyans have to be well into their 50s to remember a time when he was not the leader. His cult of personality meant that it was hard not to see his portrait wherever you looked.

His favourite approved images showed him wearing either ochre robes, or a series of increasingly elaborate uniforms, apparently made to his own design. They have all gone.

In the last few days I have seen only two Gaddafi portraits. One was propped up in a dustbin as a fighter emptied his Kalashnikov into it for some grateful photographers.

The other was positioned carefully on the threshold of the hotel where many of the journalists are staying, in such a way that all the guests have to walk over it to get inside.

Fragile peace
Tripoli feels very local at the moment.

Young anti-Gaddafi fighters run roadblocks at important junctions. But there is no central authority.

The rebels run local checkpoints, but there is no central authority
The NTC has been recognised by many of the world's most powerful states - but as a government it is invisible. Families, and neighbourhoods, are looking after themselves.

It is calm, but if matters continue to drift that might not last.

I saw some signs of impatience and strain outside a bank in Tajoura, a suburb of Tripoli that was one of the hotbeds of resistance to the regime in the last six months.

A few hundred public employees were queuing, hoping it would open so they could pick up their salaries. A woman touched off a shouting match when she started pounding on the door.

The men yelled at her to be patient, all would come right. She yelled back that she had not been paid for three months, and that she was hungry. Other women supported her, saying their children could not wait.

The men said they were happy to feed off revolutionary euphoria. The women were much more conscious that freedom alone does not put food on the table.

The men responded with some patriotic chanting.

At the start of this remarkable year, the revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt were just as happy when they overthrew their dictators.

But since then, slow or nonexistent political, social and economic progress have created a poisonous malaise in Tunisia and Egypt.

Most people in those countries still think life is better without the dictators. But the promise of the spring has faded.

The new powers in Libya would do well to learn their lessons.

Libya is fragile and it will need help, luck and wise leadership. It has already been offered some help. It is waiting for the other two ingredients of a better future.

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