x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Tripoli erupts into a carnival celebration over Qaddafi death

Muammar Qaddafi's death ignites emotions in Tripoli, with men in cafes dropping their coffees and sprinting towards television screens to see for themselves

TRIPOLI // The Libyan capital erupted into a cacophony of car horns, machinegun fire and chants as news spread that the battle for Sirte, and the hunt for its most famous son, were both over.

In Martyrs' Square hundreds of men chanted: "Alleyway by alleyway, house by house, we found you Qaddafi" - a scornful echo of the former dictator's threat that his forces would hunt down every rebel in the town of Benghazi, where the uprising that ultimately deposed him began eight months ago.

Qaddafi's death ignited emotions, with men in cafes dropping their coffees and sprinting towards television screens to see for themselves. By 2pm the city was nearly deafening, with hands pressed firmly on car horns, yells of "God is great", the crackle of AK-47s emptied into the sky and the boom of celebratory anti-aircraft rounds fired over the Mediterranean.

"Qaddafi is dead, by God," said Jaber Ayoub, 30, a soldier in the NTC forces, as he observed the growing spectacle in Martyrs' Square in the centre of Tripoli. "I don't even know what to say. I won't be able to sleep for days. This is a truly great day."

Just down the street, Kamel Mohammed, 28, was celebrating what his friends called a "double wedding" with almond milk drinks and sweets at the grand Martyrs' Mosque in the newly renamed Qatar Square. "It's like a small wedding for Kamel and a big wedding for the death of Qaddafi," said Fathi Ali, 43, Mr Mohammed's neighbour and an engineer in Tripoli. "If we had wings, we would fly."

With tears streaming down her face, Najwan Abughrara, 26, said she felt bittersweet about Qaddafi's death. Her uncle, Mustafa Mohammed Sharif, had been hanged in Martyrs' Square - formerly Green Square - for opposing Col Qaddafi.

"We wanted to put him on trial before giving him the death penalty," said Ms Abughrara, a lawyer in Tripoli.

As the afternoon turned into evening, Tripoli took on a carnival atmosphere. Inflatable slides appeared in Martyrs' Square and popcorn sellers came out in force to feed the celebrating crowds.

On side streets, spontaneous singing and dancing broke out among passers-by. A group of men on Revolution Street, which leads into the square, held down an old poster of Col Qaddafi on the street for cars to screech over. There was the sound of drums and women ululating, mixed with the din from around the city made up of gunfire and shouts.

Soldiers began turning up in their finest military attire, much of it hidden away after the siege of Tripoli. Out came the finest specimens of AK-47, some painted in gold, the helmets, the hats abandoned by fleeing Qaddafi officers. Some wore bandoliers of ammunition around their necks, others placed flowers in their guns and around artillery mounted on lorries.

"I have a happiness inside me that knows no limits," said Mohammed Abdul, 34, a wood carver turned revolutionary fighter for a Misurata brigade. "We think that Libya will be like heaven now. The military action is over."

"We are just really happy," said Osama Mugheb, 25, a banker at BNP Paribas in Tripoli. "We were waiting for eight months, but we were also waiting for this day for 42 years. The regime of Qaddafi is finally over."

The celebrations came after weeks of unease over the proliferation of weapons, infighting among members of the interim government and Qaddafi's threats of a new uprising by his loyalists next week.

Nevertheless, not everyone embraced the news of Qaddafi's death wholeheartedly. Haitham Haddad, 31, an NTC fighter, watched the crowds placidly yesterday afternoon.

Even after seeing images of Col Qaddafi's corpse broadcast on television, with his characteristic curly hair and beard with traces of blood, the fighter was awaiting more evidence.

"I'm just uncertain if any of it is true," he said, pointing to previous NTC announcements of the capture and death of Col Qaddafi's sons Saif Al Islam and Motassim that were later contradicted.

"If it is true, then we are very happy, but it's going to be a long time before we will have stability. Everyone wants to be a judge now, a politician, the president, to control the government."