Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Rwandan singer amongst terror plot suspects

Read more

DEBATE

What's Putin's Plan? Kiev Accuses Russia of Terrorism

Read more

FOCUS

Campaigning against Bouteflika's re-election... in France

Read more

WEB NEWS

Chile: Online mobilization to help Valparaiso fire victims

Read more

ENCORE!

Art, sex, money, memory and manga

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Spat over Iran's UN ambassador hampers thawing relations with US

Read more

FOCUS

China trade deal: Is Taiwan's identity under threat?

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Call it a caretaker government'

Read more

DEBATE

Nigeria's Battles

Read more

  • Frantic search for survivors of sunken South Korea ferry

    Read more

  • Crunch talks on Ukraine in Geneva

    Read more

  • Algeria heads to the polls: ‘This election has nothing to do with us’

    Read more

  • Man executed in Texas for 2002 triple murder

    Read more

  • Scandal-hit French doctor Jacques Servier dies at 92

    Read more

  • Belgian head of wildlife reserve shot in DR Congo

    Read more

  • Stagehand of God? Maradona's legendary goal inspires a play

    Read more

  • US rolls out red carpet for French critic of capitalism

    Read more

  • N. Korea not amused by London hair salon's Kim Jong-un ad

    Read more

  • Real Madrid beat old foes Barcelona to lift Copa del Rey

    Read more

  • France's new PM targets welfare in drive to cut spending

    Read more

  • Campaigning against Bouteflika's re-election... in France

    Read more

  • Brazil club Mineiro cancel Anelka signing after no-show

    Read more

  • Syria 'torture' photos silence UN Security Council members

    Read more

  • Paris laboratory loses deadly SARS virus samples

    Read more

  • More than 100 schoolgirls kidnapped in northeast Nigeria

    Read more

  • New York police disband unit targeting Muslims

    Read more

  • 'Miracle girl' healthy after seven-organ transplant in Paris

    Read more

  • Paris police memo calling for Roma eviction ‘rectified’

    Read more

  • Burgundy digs into France's bureaucratic 'mille-feuille'

    Read more

  • French court drops ‘hate speech’ case against Bob Dylan

    Read more

  • Algeria rights crackdown slammed ahead of election

    Read more

  • Iraq closes notorious Abu Ghraib jail over security fears

    Read more

  • In ‘Tom at the Farm’, Xavier Dolan blends Hitchcock and homoeroticism

    Read more

Africa

Gaddafi's gutted edifice of power draws gaping crowds

©

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2011-04-28

More than two months after Muammar Gaddafi's main military base in Benghazi was stormed, the ruins have turned into a symbol of the strongman’s repression and the sacrifices people made to overcome it.

Gutted buildings spew gnarled metal grids out in the noonday sun. A charred car carcass lies belly-up in the grass. And the few standing walls – painted green and white in the official colours of Muammar Gaddafi's regime – display giant burn marks. 

A charred car carcass lies belly-up outside Gaddafi's ruined "Katiba".
Little groups of people pick their way through the detritus, dwarfed by the vastness of the destroyed complex. They occasionally use mobile phones to snap photos of the odd family member posing on a collapsed column or two. But mostly, the visitors just spend their time gaping at the ruins.
 
More than two months after Gaddafi's main military base in Benghazi was stormed by protesters, the Katiba - as the base is commonly called – is still a crowd-puller in this eastern Libyan city.
 
When Gaddafi controlled the area, ordinary Benghazi residents never entered this dreaded complex – unless they were forced to.
 
A sprawling compound in the heart of Benghazi, the Katiba once housed several brigades and included barracks, parade grounds, bunkers and prisons.
 
Although the word “katiba” in Arabic literally means brigade or phalanx, residents of Benghazi use it as a catchall term to describe this bastion of Gaddafi's security apparatus.
 
On February 20, Gaddafi lost control of this vast, fortified complex following days of deadly battles between troops in the Katiba and anti-government protesters armed mostly with rocks and homemade Molotov cocktails.
 
The fall of the Katiba marked the turning point of the Libyan uprising. The next day, Benghazi fell from Gaddafi's control. Within the next few days, other eastern cities rapidly followed.
 
The storming of the edifice has taken on mythic proportions, a sort of David vs. Goliath meets storming of the Bastille saga.
 
Martyr for a cause
 
There are many heroes, large and small, in Libya's ongoing uprising. Photographs of the shaheeds – martyrs – who have fallen in the fight against Gaddafi, line the walls of public spaces, notably the courthouse, which has turned into a defacto hub of the uprising.
 
 
But one story of bravery is repeated everywhere we go: the story of Shaheed Mehdi Ziu.
 
A 49-year-old father of two teenage girls, Ziu rammed his explosives-packed car through one of the main gates of the Katiba on Feb. 20, instantly incinerating himself while hurtling into the annals of Benghazi history.
 
A graffiti tag on a wall at the entrance to the street where his brother lives in a middle-class neighbourhood of Benghazi proclaims, “Avenue of Shaheed Mehdi Ziu”.
 
Ziu's younger brother, Salem Ziu, 44, welcomes us with the restrained politeness of a grieving relative acknowledging condolences.
 
All sorts of journalists, TV crews and photographers have come here to cover the Katiba shaheed story. Salem has recounted the events several times over the past two months and he does so once more, a younger brother's tribute to a fallen sibling.
 
Salem Ziu holds a framed picture of his brother, Mehdi Ziu, who rammed his explosives-packed car through one of the main gates of the Katiba on Feb. 20.
Sitting beside a framed poster of his brother, Salem describes how, a day after the suicide bombing and a frantic 24-hour search for his missing brother, he finally heard of the incident and rushed to the Katiba.
 
“The car was still smoking from 1pm the previous day, it was such a massive explosion. We went to pick up his body, but there was no body. No body,” repeats a visibly moved Salem, rubbing his furrowed brow in an attempt to compose himself.
 
“It was all gone, it was all burned. There was no flesh, there were only bones. We gathered the bones and put them in a plastic bag and the bag weighed just around a kilo,” he notes.
More than two months later, Salem has few explanations why his brother undertook his historic mission.
 
“He wasn't particularly religious. I never had any inkling that he would do something like this,” explains Salem. “He lived near the Katiba. For days, he saw protesters being killed before him. He was helping to take the wounded to hospital. Every evening he used to return home with bloodied clothes, which had to be washed. I think he just decided he had to do something. I am grieving for a lost brother, but I'm proud of him. He did not die in vain. The Katiba was destroyed.”

 

Date created : 2011-04-28

Comments

COMMENT(S)