TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Mohammed was pretty sure he had the best joke of the night in Martyr’s Square as Tripolitanians partied in a carnival-like atmosphere into the small hours of Friday morning.
“I have a new ambition, maybe,” the 20-year-old said. “I want to run for president.”
The guffawing of his friends proved him right as they shouted out that it might be possible now.
“We want elections, we want democracy, we want a better economy,” Mohammed’s friend, Tarek, also 20 years-old, said.
“Now that Gaddafi is gone we can say and do whatever we want to. Can you hear me speaking to you?”
The people who surged into the streets of Libya’s towns and cities to cheer the demise of Muammar Gaddafi and who celebrated in the renamed Martyr’s Square in central Tripoli, exercised that freedom with some gusto.
Posters featuring Gaddafi’s dead body were made up and being enthusiastically waved around the streets within an hour of the photos appearing online. One man in Martyr’s Square had mocked up several images of Gaddafi dressed as a woman, causing much amusement and raising of camera phones.
If anyone was sorry that Gaddafi had been killed or was worried that jostling among factions in the interim government could keep the country’s stability off balance and threaten a promised roadmap to elections, central Tripoli last night was not the place to say it.
“This is our night to enjoy something that people are having trouble believing even happened,” said Saif, one of many people with a small child on his shoulders. “For some people from outside Libya it could look wrong that we’re celebrating a death with our children. But it was 42 years of the devil.”
Fireworks — some of them in the red and green colors of Libya’s new flag — cascaded over the city centre’s tall buildings as celebratory red tracer fire soared into the night sky with heavy bangs.
Several people staggered around drunk, despite alcohol being outlawed in the country.
“We are revolutionaries! We can drink anything!” one young man shouted having pried a machine-gun out of the hands of a more inebriated friend whose hand was a little too close to the trigger.
Fighters from brigades loyal to the ruling National Transitional Council mingled with teenagers who had never known any ruler but the man they were instructed to call “dear brother leader.”
Old couples, who recalled the excitement and hope they had when he came to power as a handsome and fiercely proud Arab willing to stand up to the West, shared their shock in small groups. To a person, all of them said they never imagined they would see him killed.
“He was so fantastic for us when we first saw him — really,” said Lamse, who was 15 when he came to power. “But I remember when I saw in one speech that he wanted all the power. I got shivers down my body and all up my neck.”
Children — many too young to remember the man whose death they were there to mark — were hoisted on shoulders and taught how to flash the “V” for victory sign of anti-Gaddafi forces.
They ate candy floss and popcorn and scores of them jumped about on a bouncy castle brought in for the occasion.
“Muammar, bad,” one small girl said to foreign journalists in English. “Boom, boom.”
The boom, boom of celebratory machinegun and anti-aircraft fire filled the skies again — though it was less than on other occasions during the war, perhaps because several people have been killed by it — highlighting that the city, and the country, is still awash with weapons.
Despite fears that rival militias may refuse to give up their arms and go back to their home regions until horse-trading over positions in any new government is done with, several young fighters from different brigades — standing arm-in-arm — said they had no interest in more fighting.
“I swear to you we are going to give back our guns,” said a young fighter called Ahmed, who had taken part in the final battle for pro-Gaddafi bastion Bani Walid. “We are going to become like guys in Europe.”
Everybody had gathered in the square where Gaddafi had made some of his most fiery speeches to talk about one thing: him.
But Nasser, a 25-year-old shopworker, thought Libya should move on and stop focusing on the man whose huge personality and eccentric rule had dominated it for so long.
“He’s a monster. And he’s dead,” he said. “He’s just a dead monster. That’s all.”
Additional reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Peter Graff