20 Oct 2011

'A day to remember' for children of Libya

Lindsey Hilsum witnesses scenes more in keeping with a funfair than Tripoli’s Martyr’s Square as families turn out to celebrate the death of the despotic Muammar Gaddafi

They brought a bouncy castle to Martyr’s Square. And candy floss. And popcorn. The death of Colonel Gaddafi, gruesome as the pictures appear, is a cause of family celebration here in Tripoli.

An eight-year-old boy told me “Shakshoufa died”. Shakshoufa means “fuzzy head”, and that’s what many Libyans call Gaddafi these days. The boy’s 10-year-old sister, wearing a long shiny dress in the red, green and black of the revolution, said “Gaddafi killed a lot of people and that’s why we came to celebrate.”

Two little girls in matching pink outfits waved the tricolour flag as people sang “The blood of the martyrs has not been shed in vain.”

This is a moment Libyan parents want their children to remember.

“I feel I have been reborn,” said a fighter with a solid silver Kalashnikov and a matching revolver that he had stolen from Gaddafi’s compound, Bab al Aziziyah. “”My life starts now.”

He said he would take off his uniform and resume civilian life when he knew the country was safe, but that might take a couple of months.

Everyone I met was happy, but still remembering those who died in the last eight months of revolution, or the previous 42 years of Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule.

At the press conference announcing the death of Gaddafi, Mahmoud Jibril, the acting prime minister, asked people not to shoot into the air in celebration and so far, the party has been subdued. I suspect, however, that after dark the men who fought Gaddafi and won will not be able to restrain themselves.

Mr Jibril, like many Libyans, was equivocal about the fact that Gaddafi was killed not captured. “I just wanted him to disappear, to vanish,” he said. “But I would have liked to be attorney general for his trial.”

A young man who told me he had fought in Brega, in eastern Libya, said: “I wanted him to admit his crimes, and for those who still supported him to see him do that.”

Maybe that was always unlikely. If Gaddafi had been caught alive, the new authorities would have been under pressure to transfer him to the International Criminal Court in The Hague where he might have used the platform to defend himself and deny everything, just as Slobodan Milosevic did. That might have encouraged his remaining supporters.

It’s not clear what they will do now. The Gadaffi sons have met different fates – some fled, some believed dead, some possibly captured. There is no-one to inherit the Gadaffi mantle.

As I left Martyrs Square, someone was blowing bubbles. “I just called my mum in Manchester,” said Anas Ramadan, in a strong Mancunian accent. “I said mum, he’s a hundred per cent shot. Then I could hear my sisters uluating and I couldn’t stop crying.”