Muammar Gaddafi, the ‘king of kings’ dies in city of his birth
Libya’s former leader killed by rebels in Sirte in wake of French airstrike, although precise details of his death remain unclear
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was born in Sirte, and when he became the ruler of all Libya, he transformed it from an insignificant fishing village into the country’s sprawling second city. On Thursday, after a brutal – and ultimately hopeless – last stand, it was the place where he died.
For the past three weeks, with Gaddafi’s whereabouts still unknown, government fighters had been puzzled by the bitter and determined resistance from loyalist fighters. Trapped in a tiny coastal strip just a few hundred metres wide, they had refused to give up, even when a victory by the forces of Libya’s National Transitional Council seemed inevitable.
Here at last was the answer: they had been fighting to the death with their once-great leader in their midst.
The emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, was one of those in Sirte during the final battle. “A very heavy bombardment started at midnight with shelling of the remaining strongholds with Grad rockets that went on until 6am,” he told the Guardian. “I went down to the city centre at 9am and went in with the fighters from Benghazi who said the whole city was free.
“I went to the hospital and a fighter arrived with a gold pistol he said he had taken from Gaddafi. He said there had been a fight with a convoy of people trying to flee. Mansour Dhou [Sirte’s pro-Gaddafi military commander] was also in the clinic, shot in the stomach. He said they had been trying to flee and were caught in gunfire, which is when he lost consciousness. He confirmed Gaddafi was with him.”
While details of the precise circumstances of Gaddafi’s death remained confused and contradictory last night, it appears he was trying to flee the city in a convoy of cars when they came under attack from Nato jets. Last night the French claimed responsibilty for the airstrike.
The convoy was then apparently caught in a gun battle with fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim government. Possibly wounded in the shootout, Libya’s former ruler crawled into a drain; later he was set upon by revolutionary fighters, one of whom beat him with a shoe.
Witnesses said he perished pleading for mercy after being dragged out of a hiding place inside a concrete drain. According to one fighter, the dying Gaddafi demanded: “What have I done to you?”
Abdel-Jalil Abdel-Aziz, a doctor who accompanied Gaddafi’s body in an ambulance as it was taken from Sirte, said he died from two shots, to the head and chest. “I can’t describe my happiness,” he told the Associated Press. “The tyranny is gone. Now the Libyan people can rest.
Amid the swirl of contradictory reports, one thing was clear: Gaddafi’s death was a humiliating end for a man once used to surrounding himself with cheering crowds of supporters. Video images that emerged showed him being bundled bloodied on to the back of a pick-up truck, surrounded by fighters waving guns and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).
At first Gaddafi was apparently able to walk with assistance before being lifted on to the truck’s tailgate. A second clip, however, showed him lifeless. In the second sequence, the tunic over one of his shoulders was heavily bloodstained.
Also killed was one of Gaddafi’s sons, Mutassim, a military officer who had commanded the defence of Sirte for his father, according to NTC officials. Gaddafi’s second son, Saif al-Islam, was also said to have been arrested, although the news could not immediately be confirmed.
After his death, Gaddafi’s body was taken – accompanied by a huge convoy of celebrating revolutionaries –to Misrata, two hours away. In Misrata – which itself went through a bitter siege during Libya’s eight-month civil war – the body was paraded through the streets on a truck, surrounded by crowds chanting, “The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain.”
Bouckaert said: “I followed the convoy with the body to Misrata, where it was displayed. I have seen a lot of celebrations in Libya but never one like this.”
Across Libya, as the news broke, there were celebrations. “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” the Libyan prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, told a news conference.
In Tripoli there were volleys of celebratory gunfire as vast crowds waving the red, black and green national flag adopted by the NTC gathered in Martyr’s Square – once the setting for mass rallies in praise of the “Brother Leader”.
Jibril said: “We confirm that all the evils, plus Gaddafi, have vanished from this beloved country. It’s time to start a new Libya, a united Libya. One people, one future.” A formal declaration of liberation would be made by Friday, he added later.
The death of Gaddafi and the fall of Sirte opens the way to national elections which – it had already been announced – would take place eight months after “full liberation” had been achieved.
In London, David Cameron hailed Gaddafi’s death as a step towards a “strong and democratic future” for the north African country. Speaking in Downing Street after Jibril officially confirmed the death of the dictator, Cameron said he was proud of the role Britain had played in Nato airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians after the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule began in February.
Cameron added that it was a time to remember Gaddafi’s victims, including the policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, who was gunned down in a London street in 1984, the 270 people who died when Pan-Am flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie in 1988, and all those killed by the IRA using Semtex explosives supplied by the Libyan dictator. Nato commanders will meet on Friday to consider ending the coalition’s campaign in Libya.
Gaddafi, 69, is the first leader to be killed in the Arab spring, the wave of popular uprisings that swept the Middle East demanding the end of autocratic rulers and greater democracy.
He was one of the world’s most mercurial leaders. He seized power in 1969 and dominated Libya with a regime that often seemed run by his whims. But his acts brought international condemnation and isolation to his country.
When the end came for Gaddafi it was not as his son Saif al-Islam once promised, with the regime fighting to “its last bullet”. Instead, the man who once styled himself “the king of the kings” of Africa was cornered while attempting to escape with his entourage in a convoy of cars after a final 90-minute assault on the last few loyalist positions in Sirte’s District Two.
Last night the charred remains of 15 pickup trucks lay burned out on a roadside where Gaddafi’s convoy had attempted to punch through NTC lines. Inside the ruined vehicles sat the charred skeletons; other bodies lay strewn on the grass.
Gaddafi and a handful of his men appear to have escaped death, and hidden in two drainage pipes choked with rubbish.
Government troops gave chase, said Salem Bakeer, a fighter who was on the scene at the last moment. “One of Gaddafi’s men came out waving his rifle in the air and shouting surrender, but as soon as he saw my face he started shooting at me,” he told Reuters. “Then I think Gaddafi must have told them to stop. ‘My master is here, my master is here’, he said, ‘Muammar Gaddafi is here and he is wounded’,” said Bakeer. “We went in and brought Gaddafi out. He was saying ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s going on?’. Then we took him and put him in the car.”
With its fall, the city of Sirte was transformed from a potent image of Gaddafi’s rule to the symbol of his gruesome end. Even as Gaddafi’s body was being driven away, the drain where he was found was being immortalised in blue aerosol paint. On it, someone wrote: “The hiding place of the vile rat Gaddafi.”
editors note: according to tv news reports, the Muammar was captured alive, then received a bullet to the head while being transported, either by rebels or followers….
Muammar Gaddafi Massacres Libya Protesters
‘Scores killed’ in Libya protests
Human Rights Watch says 84 people killed in past three days during rallies calling for Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster.
Security forces in Libya have killed scores of pro-democracy protesters in a crackdown on demonstrations against Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s long time ruler.
Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that 84 people had died over the past three days.
A doctor in the eastern city of Benghazi told Al Jazeera that he had seen 70 bodies at the city’s hospital on Friday.
“I have seen it on my own eyes: At least 70 bodies at the hospital,” Wuwufaq al-Zuwail, a physician, said. Al-Zuwail said that security forces had also prevented ambulances reaching the site of the protests.
Ahmed, a businessman and resident of Benghazi who declined to give his real name for his own safety, told Al Jazeera that hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with the number of dead and injured and were running out of blood.
“It’s a big, big massacre. We’ve never heard of anything like this before. It’s horrible,” he said.
“The shooting is still taking place right now. We’re about 3km away from it, and we saw this morning army troops coming into the city. You can hear the shooting now. They don’t care about us.”
The unrest in Libya has largely been centred in the eastern cities of Benghazi, Bayda and Tobruk. But Al Jazeera has received reports that the protests have begun to spread to the country’s west.
Verifying news from Libya has been difficult since the protests began, thanks to restrictions on journalists entering the country, as well as internet and mobile phone black outs imposed by the government.
The Libyan government has blocked Al Jazeera’s TV signal in the country and people have also reported that the network’s website is inaccessible from there.
Mohamed Abdulmalek, the chairman of Libya Watch – a human rights group that monitors abuses within the country – said the delay of protests in the west was due to the heavy presence of security forces there.
“The delay in the uprising in the west was not because the people did not want to go out,” he told Al Jazeera from the UK.
“But the security presence in Tripoli, for example, was so intense that people gathered individually in the beginning. The Libyan regime anticipated this so the squares in Tripoli were occupied by security forces and therefore people were not allowed to gather.
“But eventually, the pressure on the capital started from outside Tripoli and now you see the people revolting. We have no doubt that the east and the west will unite.”
‘Ready to die’
A day earlier, marchers mourning dead protesters in Benghazi, reportedly came under fire from security forces.
Mohamed el-Berqawy, an engineer in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera that the city was the scene of a “massacre,” and that four demonstrators had been killed.
“Where is the United Nations … where is (US president Barack) Obama, where is the rest of the world, people are dying on the streets,” he said. “We are ready to die for our country.”
Protests in the country began on February 14, and three days later tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators seeking to oust Gaddafi took to the streets in what organisers called a “day of rage” modelled after similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted longtime leaders there.
Gaddafi has ruled Libya since 1969.
Libyan state television, however, has made little mention of the anti-government protests. Instead, it showed supporters of Gaddafi filling the streets of the capital, singing as they surrounded his limousine as it crept along a road packed with people carrying his portrait.
The worst clashes during the unrest appear to have taken place in the eastern Cyrenaica region, centred on Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has historically been weaker than in other parts of the country.
Libya’s Quryna newspaper reported on Thursday that the regional security chief had been removed from his post over the deaths of protesters in the city of Bayda.
Libyan opposition groups in exile claimed that Bayda citizens had joined with local police forces to take over Bayda and fight against government-backed militias, whose ranks are allegedly filled by recruits from other African nations.
While Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, two-thirds of the 6.5 million strong population live on less than $2 a day.
Recent leaked memos from US diplomats have even said that Gaddafi’s government seems to neglect the east intentionally to weaken the opposition.
Political analysts say Libyan oil wealth may give the government the capacity to smooth over social problems and
reduce the risk of an Egypt-style revolt.
But Gaddafi’s opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption.
The government has proposed the doubling of government employees’ salaries and released 110 suspected anti-government figures who oppose him – tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab governments facing recent mass protests.
Gaddafi also has been meeting with tribal leaders to solicit their support.
Editors Note: you get that look when you replace 100% of your blood every year.