Africa

Libya anniversary: Dangers lurk amid celebrations

Man celebrates the anniversary of the uprising that overthrew Col Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi, Libya
Image caption Libyans are celebrating their new freedoms, but new dangers also lurk

In Benghazi, they started their celebrations early. On Tuesday they were already parading through the streets.

It was here one year ago that protests turned into a revolt that eventually toppled one of the most entrenched dictatorships of the last half-century.

For some, the preparations for the big day brought back emotional memories.

"We love it! It's fantastic," said Lamin el-Bijou, out enjoying the winter sunshine.

"It's freedom. There's no Gaddafi, unbelievable. I feel the freedom. I smell the freedom."

Benghazi's inhabitants are fiercely proud of the fact that it was in their city that it all began. But amid the celebrations, Libya's revolution has the distinct feel of unfinished business.

'Ignored'

This is a country where the power rests - to a large extent - not with the interim government or the National Transitional Council (NTC), but with a patchwork of armed militias.

On the steps of a large hotel in the centre of town, two such groups were arguing loudly.

Image caption Squabbling militia groups say there is little appeal in laying down their weapons

The government wants to persuade fighters to hand in their weapons and join the national army. Some of these men said they had done so, but had not been paid.

"We're all being ignored," said Mohammed Hijazi, an angry officer in a blue uniform.

"There's an agenda here to ignore the military. We're the ones who delivered all the army bases for the revolution.

"We've lost control of this revolution. We delivered all the weapons stores; we led the fight on the front line. And our reward is to be ignored."

Those are the kinds of complaints that discourage other fighters from laying down their guns.

Some of these brigades of former fighters are accused of inflicting horrific abuses on prisoners in unofficial detention centres.

The human rights group Amnesty International has documented what it says are widespread and persistent instances of torture, including prolonged beatings and electric shocks.

Disillusioned

Mustafa Abushugour, Libya's deputy prime minister, admits there is a problem and that it is struggling to control some of the brigades of former rebel fighters.

"Those young people who made the revolution, clearly right now we are depending on them to help us to secure the country, while we are building the other institutions."

On one of Benghazi's main squares, we met Masoud Bwisri, sitting on the edge of a fountain, strumming a guitar.

During the revolution, he became a celebrity on the front line, singing to the fighters as they battled their way slowly westward towards Tripoli.

Now he says, he is disillusioned with what the revolution has achieved.

"I am really sad for our situation. We fight Gaddafi not because his name is Gaddafi. We fight for human rights."

Image caption Masoud Bwisir laments that the revolution has brought guns rather than peace

Mr Bwisri believes it is vitally important that those who took up arms now lay down their guns.

"Music brings peace. Machine guns cannot bring peace. Strings, for me," he says pointing at his instrument, "are stronger than guns."

Most Libyans agree that the freedoms that have come with the revolution - the freedom to speak your mind, the freedom to partake in politics - are changing their lives for the better.

But there is a danger that unless the militias disarm, those gains could quite quickly give way to renewed violence and oppression.