Residents in 'liberated' Benghazi wonder about the future

BENGHAZI, Libya — Even as Libya's second largest city marked a week of freedom Saturday from Moammar Gadhafi and the curious rummaged through the wreckage of the dictator's once secret military headquarters, residents wondered what will come next.

Yes, the rebel leadership of prominent citizens and military defectors has established 13 committees to oversee services like security and trash collection. Yes, they have established a media center and overrun Benghazi's hated security headquarters.

Some residents, however, expressed concern about what will replace the police state — with its agents, informers and ever-present threat of arrest and torture — that the majority lived under for most, if not all, of their lives.

"What kind of Libya do you want to see?" said Ramanda Masoud, 50, an engineer. "Tripoli is finished. One day, two days ... it will happen. But what will happen to Libya?"

For others, though, it's an issue that can wait until the outcome of the insurrection that erupted 11 days ago in this port city after Gadhafi's security agents arrested activists planning a "day of rage" inspired by the pro-democracy uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. It took three days of vicious fighting for the city to fall.

"The life here has to come back and the fighting must end, and then we will debate the new laws," said Shahan el-Lehouk, an electrician.

With cellular telephone service limited, people in Benghazi are trying to stay abreast of developments in Tripoli, Gadhafi's last major stronghold, through static-filled calls that often end abruptly.

One man, Amriory, spoke to a friend in Tripoli named Safiya, who said there were tanks at all of the city's major intersections and that troops had been clearing from the streets and hiding the bodies of protesters gunned down when they tried to stage demonstrations after midday prayers Friday.

"I have something else I want to tell you," Safiya said after Amriory handed his cellular telephone to a reporter. Then the call cut off.

What people want in place of Gadhafi's police state remained vague. Many said they wanted to elect their leaders, but couldn't say when that should happen or what a new constitution should look like.

In the meantime, the smell of once-burning government buildings and police stations permeated the air. Eye-level graffiti denouncing Gadhafi ringed almost every wall around the city of 1 million.

"Get out, Egypt stands with you" and "Yes to freedom," said two slogans.

Others said, "Victory or defeat," the famous proclamation of Omar Mukhtar, the national hero who spearheaded the resistance against Italian colonial rule from 1923-1931, when he was caught and hanged.

Residents said that about 300 people died in the battle for the city against Gadhafi's security squads and African mercenaries.

At a military base that had stood as a symbol of Gadhafi's power, residents clambered over piles of rubble, the flame-gutted hulks of soldiers' cars and looted offices that they were once prohibited from entering.

They also climbed into bunkers that some residents claimed were used to hold prisoners. Scattered throughout the complex were holes dug into underground tunnels by people searching for missing detainees.

"For every dictator there is an end," said a slogan painted in one bunker.


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