Africa

Muammar Gaddafi buried: End of gruesome show

The spectacle is over, the queues have gone and that now infamous refrigerated meat container stands empty.

After five days of grisly and undignified display, the bodies of Col Muammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim, and his army chief Abu Baker Younis lie buried in an unmarked grave, somewhere in the Libyan desert.

No-one who attended the funeral has spoken publicly about the details.

But the BBC has spoken to one man who helped prepare the body of the former dictator for burial.

He is Sheikh Khaled Tantoush. Under the deposed regime, he was a trusted cleric. He fled Tripoli with Col Gaddafi in the final days before the capital fell to rebel forces.

He was with the colonel in his hometown of Sirte almost until the end. Now he is a prisoner in Misrata.

'Rites received'

On Monday night, he was brought to the market on the outskirts of town, where Col Gaddafi's body had been on display.

"In our religion, when a man dies we have to clean him, and we have to pray for him."

Sheikh Khaled was interviewed in the presence of his captors, and may not have felt able to speak entirely freely.

When asked whether Muammar Gaddafi had received the appropriate rites for someone about to be buried, he answered: "Yes. They let us clean him and do what Islamic people do when a Muslim dies."

But on the subject of the five-day delay before committing the colonel's body to the ground, the cleric said: "I do not know why they did that. It is not a question for me."

Battle for influence

According to Islamic custom, a person should be buried as soon as possible after death.

Few people who came to view Muammar Gaddafi's corpse in Misrata seemed to object to this break with tradition.

Image caption The now infamous refrigerated meat container in Misrata stands empty, but still attracts crowds

But the colonel's five-day stint as macabre exhibit does raise questions. Why was he not buried sooner?

A pathologist had already examined his body on Saturday. One reason is that some on the National Transitional Council (NTC) felt it important for as many people as possible to view the corpse.

After four decades of dictatorship, some needed to see the physical embodiment of the end of the regime before they could believe it.

But the delay was also due in part to a disagreement between the fighters from Misrata, who captured Col Gaddafi, and the politicians in Benghazi who are now preparing to run this country.

In the battle for influence in the new Libya, symbols are potent bargaining chips.

In the centre of Misrata stands the famous sculpture of a giant fist, crushing an American fighter jet, that once adorned Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli.

It was transported to Misrata by the fighters who stormed the compound, and put on display as a monument to their victory.

Col Gaddafi's corpse was the most valued war trophy of all.

The five days of wrangling over when and where his body should be buried was evidence of the intense political rivalries that are now playing themselves out between Libya's major cities.

Loyalists' fears

As the victors argue over the spoils, defeated loyalists are getting used to a new reality.

Image caption Life is slowly beginning to return to normal in Misrata

Sheikh Khaled said he did not know what would happen to him personally.

"Maybe they will hang me," he mused, apparently without emotion.

In the light of the recent allegations, by groups such as Human Rights Watch, that has to be a realistic fear.

On Sunday, 53 dead bodies were found on the lawn of a hotel in Sirte. They were Gaddafi loyalists, the group said. Many had their hands bound behind their backs and had been shot in the head.

Khaled Tantoush says the colonel's followers now have only one option.

"They have to change. The end of Gaddafi means a new life."

But, he added, it would be hard, and it would take time. In Misrata, life is slowly beginning to return to normal, as people change from their military fatigues back into civilian clothes.

"The real revolution starts here," one man said, "after the death of Gaddafi."

He was sitting at a pavement cafe, enjoying a coffee with some friends. It's a sight that has only recently returned to the city, since the end of the fighting.

"This," he added, "is the peaceful revolution we started back in February."

But the scale of the task is daunting - reconstruction, reconciliation, and the rebuilding of a plural political system from scratch.

The road ahead will be a long one.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites