Joy and tears as Eid arrives in post-Gaddafi Libya

TRIPOLI Mon Aug 29, 2011 10:53pm BST

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The first Eid al-Fitr, the great feast that closes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, to be celebrated by Libyans after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi is marked by a shortage of everything from water to money.

Yet nothing seems able to spoil the celebration of freedom -- what the people of Tripoli are calling the Eid of Victory.

After almost 42 years of Gaddafi's rule, this Eid will live in Libyans' memory.

"Every year we celebrate Eid with new clothes, big meals and home-made sweets. There are shortages this year. But we have managed so far. Thank God this Eid has a special flavour. This Eid we have freedom," said Adel Kashad, 47, a computer science engineer in an oil company.

"We are happy. Gaddafi has exhausted us. He killed so many people. He caused so much destruction. All this bloodletting was because he didn't want to leave. If he had gone peacefully this would not have happened."

"Libya has a new dawn," he added as he shopped for vegetables at the Souk al-Jumaa market.

With one day to go before the Eid celebrations, people started to emerge onto the streets to buy food for the family meal. But unlike previous years, they will have to make-do with no new clothes or extravagant menus that normally include a variety of dishes and sweets.

The capital city of two million people is still struggling to regain normalcy following the six-month uprising that saw the end of Gaddafi, who was loathed and feared by most of his country's 7 million people.

Shops and businesses are still closed. Electricity, water and communications are still cut. People are still sheltering at home and only emerge to do their daily shopping in their local market.

WORTH THE SACRIFICE

Zeid Al Akari, 60, a driver, said: "It's OK if we have shortages, if we have to sacrifice for this day, which is a day of freedom. This year we are going to make do with anything. The most important thing is that we got rid of this despot."

Ali El-Mabrouk, 60, a retired office worker, added: "God willing, things will get better. This period will pass. This year we will celebrate the Eid al- Fitr and the Eid of Victory.

The Eid comes at a time when many people are still burying their dead or looking for missing relatives after the Battle of Tripoli.

There are no final figures for the number of people killed since Libyans took to the streets of the eastern city of Benghazi on February 17 to oust Gaddafi. Since the rebels took over the capital on Tuesday, evidence of executions and mass graves have been found suggesting a high toll. Many people have also disappeared.

For Sauad al-Mistari, 65, the happiness of toppling Gaddafi is incomplete. She lost her 23-year-old son Mohammed Youssef, an economics student, last Sunday during the push into Tripoli.

"I will not rest until Gaddafi and his sons are shot dead. They imprisoned my three other children for four months and killed my little one. He died on Aug 21 and my three other children were released three days later. Our joy was incomplete."

She said her main regret was that her son died before seeing the rebels liberate Tripoli. Witnessing the rebels seize the capital from Gaddafi's forces made her forget her grief.

"I forgot my loss that night. People came to me to congratulate me for the martyr I lost for the liberation of Tripoli."

"Freedom is priceless and I paid the biggest price for our freedom but I hope my son will be the last martyr," she said.

At a branch of the North Africa Bank, long queues of people were waiting to receive their salaries. Many said they had been waiting for three months to be paid.

The manager, Masbouh al-Zawi, 49, said the NTC had given instructions to the central bank that salaries should be paid.

While the details were worked out, people would initially be given a payment worth about $200 to help tide them over.

He said many residents who had withdrawn large amounts of cash before the ousting of Gaddafi to keep at home in case of emergency were returning to deposit the money.

Inside, posters of Gaddafi were thrown on the floor and people were walking over them.

"We can manage without money, without food, without electricity. It's not important. The main thing is that this heavy weight that was oppressing us has been lifted," he said.

KIDS HAPPY TOO

At a school, women and children gathered to prepare for a children's party for the Eid. The children sung revolutionary songs, wearing rebel t-shirts "Free Libya." They seemed as overjoyed as their parents.

"We were living in a big prison. After years of chaos we want our country to be better. We were at zero, so it is bound to get better now. We had nothing before, we had no prospect, no opportunities and money to achieve their goals," said Noha al-Bakoushe , 19, a medical student at al-Fateh University.

Amid the joy, some recalled the cruelty they endured or witnessed under Gaddafi.

Naeema Najjar, 45, described how she witnessed the execution of a dissident from their area at a public school because he led a protest movement against Gaddafi in 1984.

"After his execution they put his tortured body in a garbage truck and drove through the neighbourhood to display their grisly act. Our religion does not allow desecration of the bodies but they had no mercy."

"This was a dark period in our lifetime and now I want my children to enjoy the freedom and human respect that we never had."

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