Sunday 17 December 2017

Libya: 'the cake is now and everybody wants a piece'

In-fighting fears grow as country prepares declaration of liberation

Rania El Gamal and Tim Gaynor

Muammar Gaddafi's body was still unburied as Libya's new men of power wrangled over its fate and a formal announcement that the war was over -- a move the outgoing premier said yesterday should mean free elections in the middle of next year.

Mahmoud Jibril, an expatriate academic who has been prime minister in the Western-backed rebel government, confirmed he was stepping down and that the coming days would be a critical test of how the new leadership and Libya's six million people could handle freedom after 42 years at Gaddafi's whim.

In Misrata, the once besieged city whose rebel fighters are pushing claims for a big stake in a "reborn", oil-rich Libya, they guarded the market cold store where, for a second day, the curious and the relieved filed in to view the fallen strongman, whose surprise capture and killing in his home town of Sirte on Thursday last sparked joy -- and renewed jockeying for influence.

Gaddafi's surviving family, in exile, have asked that his body and that of his son be handed over to tribal kinsmen from Sirte. Officials with the National Transitional Council said they were trying to arrange a secret grave that would avoid Gaddafi supporters making it a shrine.

In Benghazi, Libya's second city and seat of the revolt in February, leaders were preparing a formal declaration today that the whole country was "liberated", a move that starts the clock ticking on a plan to install a transitional government, draft a constitution and institute full democracy by 2013.

The announcement has been expected, and delayed, since Thursday, amid arguments over whether Benghazi or the capital Tripoli should have the honour.

Anarchy has been a defining characteristic of the disparate movement that fought Gaddafi for eight months across vast tracts of desert -- and Mr Jibril, criticised by some in the anti-Gaddafi forces, made clear that progress would require great resolution.

"First, what kind of resolve will the NTC show in the next few days?" he asked. "And the other thing depends mainly on the Libyan people -- whether they differentiate between the past and the future... I am counting on them to look ahead and remember the kind of agony they went through in the last 42 years."

In Misrata, where Gaddafi's body lay, bearing bullet wounds that many assume were inflicted by fighters from the city who found him hiding in a storm drain, one field commander voiced his concern that trouble was brewing.

"The fear now is what is going to happen next," he said. There is going to be regional in-fighting. You have Zintan and Misrata on one side and then Benghazi and the east... There is in-fighting even inside the army. The cake is now and everybody wants to take a piece."

Gaddafi's family and international human rights groups have urged an inquiry into how Gaddafi, 69, was killed, when gory video footage showed him alive but being beaten and taunted by his captors on Thursday last. Mr Jibril said on the day that Gaddafi was killed in "crossfire" when his supporters opened fire on the ambulance that was taking him to hospital.

But an ambulance driver in Sirte said that the former leader was already dead by the time he picked him up.

His death marked the end of what might have been another Arab dynasty, although his son and heir-apparent Saif al-Islam is still at large. NTC officials believe he escaped from Sirte.

Despite the qualms of some abroad, few Libyans are prepared to spare much of a thought for how Gaddafi met his end. But some have expressed unease at the way his body has been treated -- Muslim custom dictates it should have been buried by sundown on Thursday last.

Sunday Independent

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