Tramps, scrap merchants mark Gaddafi revolution day
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The massed crowds that filled a central Tripoli square each September 1 to celebrate Muammar Gaddafi's 1969 coup have vanished, replaced this year by tramps and men collecting spent bullet casings for scrap.
Called Green Square during Gaddafi's brutal 42-year-rule, it was renamed Martyr's Square to honour those killed during the uprising, when civilians took up arms on February 17 to face down tanks and warplanes to oust the authoritarian leader.
"September 1 is a black day. Every time it came around we'd be shaking. He rounded up anyone he thought opposed him and locked them away. He was afraid of his own people," said Waleed al-Jidani, a bearded Koran teacher at the square.
Some years the celebrations were held at other towns and cities, but they were mostly held in the capital Tripoli.
Gaddafi clamped down hard on the devout and banned political parties, a pattern of ruthlessly crushing potential challenges. Thousands of people were imprisoned and executed.
Jidani shouted "Allahu akbar," or God is great, and it echoed across the square, an act that could have got him arrested before rebel fighters entered the capital on August 20.
On taking power in 1969 by overthrowing King Idris, Gaddafi cast himself as a socialist man of the people, on the side of the poor and in touch with his Bedouin roots.
What followed were years of repression and economic stagnation under failed socialist polices. Two wars with neighbouring countries and international sanctions imposed for backing terrorism meant life was tough for many ordinary people in this OPEC oil producer.
Libya's wealth was in the hands of Gaddafi and his inner circle.
"People reached the moon in 1969, and we got Gaddafi," said teacher Mohammed Ali, riding through the square on his bike.
Other men stood around a mural of posters mocking Gaddafi, including cartoons and manipulated photos of Gaddafi in a toilet, under a boot and in a rat-hole.
"We were ashamed, all the wars, the terrorism," said Imhammed Alghadi, 50, a hotel worker.
No one in Libya would have dared poke fun Gaddafi during his reign, which he enforced with feared military and security brigades.
"You would worry the wall on which you stuck the poster would talk," said Waleed al-Aydoudi, 35, who labelled September 1 the "day of garbage."
Gaddafi remains at large, but Libya's new leaders, the National Transitional Council, say they are closing in on him, his family and his inner circle.
"For years I wanted Gaddafi dead. Now I want him to live," Aydoudi said, chuckling.
"I want him judged by a court for his crimes."
Around the square the once ubiquitous posters and murals of Gaddafi are mostly gone, the murals peppered with bullet holes and the posters burnt and torn.
Gaddafi's green national flag is gone too, replaced by the anti-Gaddafi green, red and black flag, and the flags of NATO countries and other states that helped the rebels with airstrikes and cash during their six-month advance on Tripoli.
Abdullah Iyad, 28, remembered having to attend Gaddafi's revolutionary celebrations as a young student, when he was herded to the square by teachers.
"There is no more September 1. Only February 17," he said.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis in Tunis and Matthew Jones)
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