Libyans celebrated on Friday the first anniversary of the uprising against Moamer Kadhafi with fireworks and slogans, even as their new leader vowed to act firmly against further instability.
Hundreds gathered in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Benghazi, the city which first rose against Kadhafi and his 42-year regime, after traditional Muslim prayers, waving Libya’s new flag and proclaiming the revolution’s “birthday”.
Libya’s rulers have not organised official celebrations at a national level as a mark of respect for the thousands of people killed in the conflict that saw Kadhafi captured and slain on October 20.
But spontaneous commemorations began nationwide, as former rebels, who toppled Kadhafi last year with NATO backing, set up fresh checkpoints in Tripoli, Benghazi, the western port city of Misrata and other towns.
In Tahrir Square, mothers held pictures of their sons killed in the fighting, while singers and poets performed for the growing crowds.
“This is the first birthday of Libya. It is a day of freedom, a day to remember. The days ahead will be better now that Kadhafi is gone,” said Malek L Sahad, a Libyan-American rap singer who returned to his native country last year.
Around 200 people waved flags and chanted slogans against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, such as “Shame on you Bashar!” and “It’s your time to go now!”
A ruthless crackdown by the Assad regime on similar anti-government protests that erupted last March has cost more than 6,000 lives, human rights groups say.
Post-Kadhafi Libya recognises the Syrian National Council, the broadest opposition group, as the representative of the Syrian people.
Former army colonel Idris Rashid, 50, said the difference between the new Libya and the old was “like the difference between the sky and the earth”.
“We were living before, but never knew the meaning of life. Today we can feel the breeze of freedom,” he told AFP.
Libyan ruler Mustafa Abdel Jalil is expected to attend a function in Benghazi later on Friday to mark the anniversary of the revolution, along with interim Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib and other dignitaries.
Thuwar, or revolutionaries, were deployed across the city to ensure the celebrations went peacefully, and Abdel Jalil warned on Thursday that Libya’s revolutionary spirit and stability would not be compromised.
“We opened our arms to all Libyans, whether they supported the revolution or not. But this tolerance does not mean we are incapable of dealing with the stability of our country,” he said in a television address.
“We will be tough towards people who threaten our stability.”
Tripoli resident Naima Misrati said traffic police and former rebels were distributing leaflets, warning people against thinking of carrying out attacks, which said: “We cannot bring back the buried man (Kadhafi) but we can send you to him.”
The pro-Kadhafi Libyan Popular National Movement posted a statement on several websites saying the situation in Libya “is becoming worse every day”.
“There’s very little interest from the international media in the many horrors that have taken place. We are reorganising ourselves outside Libya in an inclusive political movement that would encompass all Libyans who understand the terrible reality of Libya,” it said.
One year after the uprising, Libya is battling challenges ranging from how to tame the rowdy militias that fought Kadhafi to establishing a new rule of law.
Thousands of people were killed or wounded in the conflict, the country’s vital oil production ground to a halt, and homes, businesses, factories, schools and hospitals were devastated.
But the most immediate headache is how to control the tens of thousands of ex-rebels who have now turned into powerful militias, whose jealously guarded commitment to their honour and power occasionally erupts into deadly clashes.
Global human rights organisations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders have accused militias of torturing their prisoners, most of whom are former pro-Kadhafi fighters.
Prime Minister Kib has acknowledged that integrating these militias into security services is a “complex” issue. But his government on Thursday said that about 5,000 of them had already been integrated.
World Bank adviser Hafed al-Ghwell in a recent report said there are concerns about the ruling National Transitional Council itself.
“The NTC has had to struggle with internal divisions, a credibility deficit and questions surrounding its effectiveness,” he said.