In western Libya, festive crowds gathered in public squares despite Covid-19 restrictions to watch anniversary fireworks and military parades, but the mood was more sombre in the east.

A member of the Libyan security forces secures the area ahead of celebrations commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2011 revolution in Tripoli, Libya, February 17, 2021.
A member of the Libyan security forces secures the area ahead of celebrations commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2011 revolution in Tripoli, Libya, February 17, 2021. (Reuters)

Libyans have marked the 10th anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and eventual killing of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

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 on 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 fireworks in the city of Sabha apparently killed a child and injured some 15 people, medical and city officials said. The Sabha municipality later called for an investigation into the cause of Tuesday’s night's explosion during celebrations in the Mansheya neighbourhood.

Streets have been decked out with lights and banners, while fresh coats of paint have spruced up Tripoli's old city.

In the capital's Martyrs' Square, officials watched as a memorial flame was lit.

Despite coronavirus restrictions, crowds waved flags, sang and took photographs as vendors sold ballons in the national colours red, green and black.

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.

READ MORE: Libya’s new unity government is a start. But a long road lies ahead.

'Mad' to celebrate 

Celebrations were lower-key in eastern Libya, the longtime fiefdom of an administration dominated by warlord Khalifa Haftar.

It was the defeat of a drive on Tripoli by Haftar's militia in June last year that led to the progress in UN-backed talks on a settlement.

Authorities in the east have declared Wednesday a national holiday but they stopped short of announcing a programme of celebrations.

Heavy snowfall was recorded in the region's Jebel Akhdar mountains, adding a chill to the commemorations.

Even in the region's main city Benghazi, where the revolution began 10 years ago, no official events were planned.

"Going out to celebrate ... would be mad because the revolution has been a catastrophe that has wrecked years of stability," said Khamis al Sahati, an eastern-based activist.

READ MORE: Will Biden change counter-revolutionary states’ conduct in Libya?

Decade-long conflict

Libya has become one of the most intractable conflicts left over from the “Arab spring” a decade ago. In the years that followed Gaddafi’s ouster, the North African country has descended into devastating chaos and has become a haven for militants and armed groups that survive on looting and human trafficking.

The oil-rich country has for years split between rival administrations: A UN-backed government in Tripoli, a city largely controlled by an array of armed factions, against an eastern-based so-called government backed by Haftar. 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 Haftar, 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.

Months of UN-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 UN 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.

In separate phone calls on Tuesday with chairperson of Presidential Council Mohamed al Manfi and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stressed the importance of holding elections and implementing the ceasefire deal, including the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya. There are at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters currently in the country, according to the UN.

READ MORE: Will Riyadh-Doha reconciliation change the course of the Libyan conflict?

Migrants' transit route

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 10 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-Gaddafi 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.

READ MORE: Why does Aguila Saleh want to move Libya's capital from Tripoli to Sirte?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies