Libyans celebrate Eid, Qaddafi ouster
By Rizwan Khatik - Fri Sep 02, 5:00 am
TRIPOLI: Libyans on Wednesday wept over the graves of those killed in their six-month war against Muammar Qaddafi, then celebrated their newfound freedom with morning prayers and joyous chants in the capital’s main square — bittersweet rituals marking the start of Eid Al-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday.
Alongside the celebrations, the hunt for Qaddafi and his family continued. Qaddafi’s wife and three of his children fled to Algeria earlier this week, while the longtime dictator and several of his sons are still at large.
In Tripoli, a rebel commander, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, told Al-Jazeera television that Qaddafi’s son Al-Saadi had offered to return to the capital in exchange for guarantees of his safety. Belhaj did not elaborate.
Rebel leaders have said they are closing in on the former Libyan leader, and advancing rebel troops are setting their sights on several towns considered regime strongholds, including Qaddafi’s birthplace of Sirte.
Rebels have insisted that Qaddafi and his family will be tried in Libya, but human rights activists and lawyers urged the rebels on Wednesday to turn the former dictator over to the International Criminal Court. Leading the calls was the court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who has charged Qaddafi with murder and torture in the brutal crackdown on his opponents.
France, meanwhile, asked the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee to unblock about one-fifth of the €7.6 billion ($10.9 billion) in Libyan assets frozen in French banks. Western powers have been leading the push to release tens of billions of dollars worth of assets frozen worldwide under a Security Council resolution.
The funds would be used by the rebels’ interim government.
Also Wednesday, Amnesty International urged Libya’s rebels to end attacks against black Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans, saying fighters engaging in such abuse should be detained and investigated. Amnesty said its delegation in Tripoli had witnessed a number of incidents in which the rebels detained or abused black hospital patients. The rebels have often targeted dark-skinned foreigners, suspecting them of being sub-Saharan mercenaries hired by the Qaddafi regime.
In Tripoli’s main square, men in their holiday finest — white robes and gold-striped vests — knelt in neat prayer rows in Martyrs’ Square, the plaza formerly known as Green Square, where Qaddafi supporters massed nightly during the uprising.
The prayer leader urged the crowd not to seek retribution against Qaddafi loyalists. “No to revenge, yes to the law that rules between us and those who killed our brothers,” he said. “Let there be forgiveness and mercy among us.”
Women in black robes ululated, rebel fighters fired guns in the air and people burst into spontaneous chants of “Hold your head high, Libya is free!“
In one corner, five rebel fighters formed a reception line, like at a wedding, and civilians walked up to them, shaking their hands in gratitude. In another area of the square, people crowded around a thick metal pole decorated with political cartoons, one depicting Qaddafi as a pig and another as a monster on a psychiatrist’s couch.
Adel Taghdi, 47, choked back tears as he watched the festivities. Having spent long years in Canada, he said he had felt no sense of belonging when he saw Qaddafi’s green flag. Now, he said, he is proud of Libyans and his country.
“I never felt that way before,” said Taghdi, who owns a tile shop in the capital. “We just want to live free.”
Wednesday marked the start of the three-day holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, which caps the holy fasting month of Ramadan. The start of the holiday is determined by the sighting of a new moon, and several countries in the Arab world started marking the holiday on Tuesday. Morning visits to cemeteries are part of the Eid Al-Fitr tradition across the region.
At Tripoli’s Bin-Shir cemetery, dozens of concrete graves had been poured for those killed in the uprising against Qaddafi, particularly the bloody week of battles for control of Tripoli that began Aug. 20.
Many of the cement grave covers were unmarked, while a few had names scribbled on them. One of those buried, Mustafa Usta, was killed by sniper fire in his neighborhood of Souk Al-Jumma last week, said his brother, Adnan, 61.
Adnan Usta, a civil servant in the Libyan foreign ministry, said he only learned of his brother’s death five days after he was shot, and that his brother was buried before the family was informed. Despite his pain, Usta said he was looking toward the future.
“We are free now,” he said. “We will build a democratic country.”