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Libyans in Sirte remain 'disappointed'

18 October 2012, 15:45

Sirte - Thousands of buildings with collapsed walls and missing storeys still beg for reconstruction in the Libyan city of Sirte, where Muammar Gaddafi made his last stand a year ago.

Resentment bristles at what many residents see as revenge by the new government against their desert city overlooking the waters of the Mediterranean which was the jewel of the Gaddafi regime.

The veteran dictator lavished millions on his hometown, building conference centres, university buildings and villas, but much of what was not levelled in the fighting that culminated in his capture and killing still awaits repair and residents blame the government.

"People are fixing their homes and shops on their own - paying for the repairs out of their pockets," said housewife Amal Mohammed, who has settled into a seaside villa with her family because her own was destroyed.

"We keep hoping that things will get better but the new government hasn't offered us anything," she complained, worried that she will be evicted without notice from her temporary abode.

A father of three, who gave his name as Abu Saleh, told AFP bluntly: "It's revenge. The negligence of Sirte by the authorities is an act of revenge."

Along the main commercial thoroughfares, shops have reopened but many are functioning only from their ground floor shop fronts, their upper storeys having been blown away by shelling.

"People are trying to restore things and live a normal life again but the government offers no help," said Mohammed Mansur, 40, who re-opened his convenience store just three months ago.

He says it cost him 7 000 Libyan dinars ($5 600) and more than two months of labour to repair just the front part of his shop where rickety shelves offer a limited selection of drinks, food and cleaning products.

Builders merchants are the only businesses that are turning a real profit in a city where an estimated 11 000 homes were partially or completely destroyed.

Graffiti daubed by Libya's victorious rebels still crowns the twin drainage pipes on the city's ouskirts where Gaddafi met his end a year ago on Saturday, revolver in hand in a final act of defiance.

But on a nearby tree, a discreet sign put up by anonymous sympathiser, notes that it was the place of death of "leader Gaddafi" not the despised "tyrant" remembered by the new regime.

'Left behind by revolution'

"No one longs for Muammar anymore but everyone expected to see something better than before and they are disappointed," said Mohammed Abu Sita, an elder of the Warfalla tribe, the region's largest to which Gaddafi himself belonged.

"People obviously compare. They [the new authorities] should not have left us behind after the revolution. In a year or two, you could see a new revolution, because there are people who want to turn the clock back," Abu Sita warned.

Insecurity is a major concern in a city which once prided itself as the safest in Libya.

"Everything shuts down at 22:00 because of the armed gangs," said Ali Marj, 22, in reference to a nighttime curfew imposed to try to stem the violence.

Um Mohammed, out shopping with her daughter, agrees: "Things were definitely better before. There were no guns and gangs. Sirte under Gaddafi was the safest city and we could go out at night," she said.

Local authorities say it is vital for the central government to pay more attention to the city of some 100 000 people, if it wants to avoid a future backlash.

Impossible to rebuild

"We are trying to convince people that this change is positive and important but we must present something to the people - reconstruction, something," said Ahmed Korbaj, a member of the city's reconstruction committee.

He says housing is the most important need in a city whose population has been swelled by fugitives from other onetime Gaddafi strongholds like the town of Tawargha, which was levelled by victorious rebels after the war.

The acting leader of the city council, Ali Labbas, said it was impossible to rebuild in a year a city Gaddafi had spent his whole 42-year reign developing.

He warned it could take six years to restore some of its lustre.

"Sirte is a city that has been destroyed," said Labbas. "The fiercest battle was fought here. Gaddafi made his last stand here. We cannot compare what was done in a year to what was done in 42."

He acknowledges that Sirte still harbours some diehard loyalists who are willing to exploit any opportunity, including the anniversary of Gaddafi’s death, to "sow sedition" but he is confident that "reason will prevail."

"Gaddafi was a dictator who is gone, just like Hitler and Mussolini," he said.



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