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BENGHAZI (Reuters) - Nothing in the world could stop Abdallah Idris from missing a ceremony to declare Libya's liberation from four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rule in the eastern city of Benghazi on Sunday.
Eager to join an event authorities say could draw a million people to the birthplace of the Libyan uprising, the 30-year-old prosecutor convinced officials to let him and his two nieces board a jarring military flight from the capital Tripoli.
"I was in the streets when Gaddafi sent his troops to kill the peaceful protesters in Benghazi last February," he told Reuters over the deafening roar of engines in the stripped-down cargo plane. "I have seen the killings and horror with my own eyes ... (There's) no way I can miss today."
Idris' nieces smiled broadly despite the discomfort of a four-hour flight on cold metal seats with no seatbelts.
"I am so happy, long live free Libya," said Mariam, 15, while 13-year-old Marwa chimed in: "God is great, long live our fighters, and God bless them."
Fighters loyal to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) triumphed last week over Gaddafi's final bastion of resistance in his hometown of Sirte, where the former dictator was killed after being captured in events shrouded in mystery.
International human rights groups have voiced concern over what some say could have been a summary execution, but most Libyans are unconcerned with what they see as a fitting end for the "tyrant" they fought for nine months.
At celebrations welcoming fighters home to Benghazi, crowds paraded their disdain for the deposed dictator.
"Where is he? Where is the man who called us rats?" one group chanted. "Raise your head up high, you are a free Libyan," others sang, amid fireworks and celebratory gun fire.
"I am so happy the cruel Gaddafi is gone," said 17-year-old Mahmoud Al-Sadek from the back of a truck packed with friends. "We won, we won. I was sure we would win at the end."
By early afternoon on Sunday, thousands were streaming towards Benghazi's central Kish square, many carrying Libya's pre-Gaddafi flag that has been adopted by the uprising.
"I am so happy, we won and are free at last," said returning fighter Osama Fattah. "There is nothing else I can say ... we are all just happy, very happy and enjoying this historic victorious moment."
"I wish my father could be alive to see this day," said Wesam el-Mughrabi, a 24-year-old medical student. "Like many Libyans, he always dreamed that one day Gaddafi would be gone -- but until now it had been only a dream."
editing by Elizabeth Piper