Calls for revenge, fears for future at Libyan funeral

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 4:23 PM
Calls for revenge, fears for future at Libyan funeral

By Michael Georgy

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A seven-year-old boy clutches a toy AK-47 assault rifle and stares down at a row of coffins holding Libyan civilians who officials say were killed by Western air strikes.

"He and many other Libyan children will die fighting the Western colonialists," said the boy's uncle Osama bin Saleh, a taxi driver.

A few feet away, a man moves his palms across his body to make a point. "Muammar Gaddafi's blood is the same as the blood of all Libyans. Any blood that is shed will be shed by everyone. The old and the young. Men and women."

That is the message Gaddafi's government has been churning out since Western forces began launching air and missile strikes to destroy Libya's air defense systems in order to protect civilians caught up in fighting with rebels.

On Thursday, foreign journalists were taken to a funeral at a Tripoli cemetery on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There was no way of verifying whether the dead -- identified as "martyrs" on their wooden caskets -- were civilians.

A fiery cleric who told mourners that all Libyans must fight to the death suggested at one point that some of them could have been soldiers.

PROUD

But the details did not seem to matter so much to the crowds, women in black veils with green headbands, teenagers in track suits with real AK-47 assault rifles fired in the air in defiance, and elderly men and women.

Ahmed Iyad, 18, said he had volunteered to fight rebels in the east. His account of the fighting matched the official government line that al Qaeda was behind the unrest.

"They had long beards and wore the same pants that al Qaeda terrorists wear," he said.

Some mourners spoke proudly about how they reacted to the strikes, which usually start just after dark and are followed by heavy anti-aircraft fire and tracer rounds that light up the sky over the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi's most important stronghold.

"When the attacks start, we dance in the streets. Nothing scares us," said student Nizam Eddine, who said his cousin was among those in the coffins.

Others said they take a more spiritual approach, gathering with their children and reciting verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Gaddafi has said he would hand out weapons to all Libyans to stop what he calls a barbaric colonialist aggression against the north African oil-producing country.

As the coffins were carried on shoulders through the cemetery for burial, tempers flared. "Sarkozy is a dog. Obama is a dog. Let them send troops to Libyan shores and they will be eaten up by hell," yelled one man.

But beneath the bravado, some took a more cautious line, worried that Libya would disintegrate like Iraq did after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

One elderly man who has lived through one crisis after another under Gaddafi spoke quietly in a corner about his fears.

"If Gaddafi did something wrong then why don't these Western countries tell him so and sit down with him and find a peaceful solution," said the 76-year-old.

Asked if Gaddafi had invited these latest troubles for Libya by cracking down on rebels, he looked around nervously as a few men gathered around him. "No. No I am not saying he made mistakes. God help us," he said.