Libyans on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and eventual killing of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.
The day comes as Libyans have their eyes on a recently appointed government tasked with leading the country through elections late this year.
Celebrations began late Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli, where people gathered in the city's main square amid tight security. The city's main streets and squares have been cleaned and decorated with banners and photos marking the anniversary.
Festivities also rang out in other cities in the south, where fire works in the city of Sabha apparently injured some 15 people, according to Abdel-Rahman Arish, head of the city’s medical center.
Hassan Wanis, head of the general authority for culture in Tripoli, said celebrations and commemorative events were planned in the three regions of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest.
“All people (across the country) are ready to celebrate specially this time in order to unify the country,” he said.
Libya has become one of the most intractable conflicts left over from the “Arab spring” a decade ago. In the years that followed Gadhafi’s ouster, the North African country has descended into devastating chaos and has become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups that survive on looting and human trafficking.
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The oil-rich country has for years split between rival administrations: A U.N.-backed, but weak government in Tripoli — a city largely controlled by an array of armed factions — against an eastern-based government backed by strongman Gen. Khalifa Hifter, head of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces. Each is backed by foreign governments.
Over the past years, the country has seen devastating bouts of violence. The latest began in April 2019, when Hifter, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, launched an offensive seeking to capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the Tripoli administration with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
Months of U.N.-led talks resulted in a deal in October that ceased hospitalities and called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in three months and adherence to a U.N. arms embargo, provisions which have not been met.
The talks also established a Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, that earlier this month appointed an interim government - a three-member Presidential Council and a prime minister - that would lead the country through elections scheduled on December 24.
That government includes Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east who hails from the tribe of anti-colonial hero Omar al-Mukhtar, as chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, a pragmatic, well-connected businessman from the western city of Misrata, was appointed as prime minister.
Dbeibah is still consulting to form his Cabinet, which requires confirmation from the country’s divided parliament. Menfi arrived in Tripoli on Tuesday and met with Dbeibah and other officials.
In separate phone calls Tuesday with Menfi and Dbeiba, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the importance of holding elections and implementing the cease-fire deal, including the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya. There are at least at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters currently in the country, according to the U.N.
In a report marking the anniversary, Amnesty International repeated its calls for holding accountable those engaged in alleged war crimes and serious human rights violations during the past ten years.
“Unless those responsible for violations are brought to justice, rather than rewarded with positions of power, the violence, chaos, systematic human rights abuses and endless suffering of civilians that have characterized post-Gadhafi Libya will continue unabated,” said Diana Eltahawy, the group’s deputy director for MENA.
“We call on parties to the conflict in Libya and the incoming unity government to ensure that those suspected of committing crimes under international law are not appointed to positions where they can continue to commit abuses and entrench impunity. Individuals who have been accused of war crimes should be suspended from positions of authority pending the outcome of independent, effective investigations,” said Diana Eltahawy.
In the past years Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Traffickers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Mediterranean route.
Thousands drown along the way, while others end up detained in squalid smugglers’ pens or crowded detention centers if captured by authorities.
Magdy reported from Cairo.