Benghazi's Freedom Square
Benghazi's Freedom Square
Giovanni Cerruti

BENGHAZI - At noon, the poster with the Kalashnikov is still hanging under the veranda: "People of Benghazi, return your weapons to Freedom Square from ten in the morning until seven in the evening."

The Minister of the Interior has asked. The Defense Ministry has asked. The Religious Affairs Ministry has asked. There was even a lottery: "You can win a car and other valuable prizes!"

By noon there is still almost nobody. No weapons anywhere. The televisions are broadcasting a hurried comment from the Defense Ministry, which knows it has once again lost the battle. "The day for returning weapons has been postponed to Saturday, September 29. Those who wish to comply beforehand may go to a barracks."

From the roof of the court house, at the angle of the square, hang five enormous banners with the photos of the 225 martyrs of the Revolution, which spread from this coastal city to the rest of Libya. There is the pilot who refused to bomb Benghazi, the engineer who loaded his car with gas cylinders and drove into the gate of a barracks full of Gaddafi supporters, as well as the seaside peddler who had offered "liberty tea."

Everyone who stops before the pictures, who is mourning a friend, who brings a rose, walks past the Kalashnikov poster. But all day long, no one comes with weapons to turn in. The reason? Fear has returned, and the city is still not safe.

Hassan al Waddawi, 37, a soldier of the "Security and Prevention Corps," is finishing his useless Sunday without a weapon, without taking a lottery ticket. "To think that for three months I haven't seen my salary. They just give me these cigarettes." At least, he says, the cigarettes put him in a good mood.

Others come here to declare their own disagreement, like Mehmet Beit Himal, 46, a waterworks employee. "We are still floating in a dirty lake. The government needs to wake up. First, they should arrest everyone who goes around with weapons. Why don't they do that? Why isn't there a law yet that requires that?"

Sunday was to have been the celebration of Libya's national holiday to commemorate its hero Omar Al Mukthar, hanged 81 years ago by Italian General Graziani at Sluq, 30 minutes by car from Benghazi.

Instead, it was a different kind of Sunday, one of continuous and confusing news: the assault on the American consulate and the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The U.S. is said to have sent a list of 50 names of people to be arrested. What is certain is that the Americans would like to send FBI agents and have not yet been able to; and that Mustafa Abu Shagur, the Libyan prime minister elected on September 12, has already said that policemen or American soldiers are not welcome, that "it would be a violation of our sovereignty."

“The thieves are still there”

In the morning, fathers are strolling Benghazi's Freedom Square. In the afternoon and until evening, it is women and children, boys with mobile phones, girls with veils, lipstick and high heels.

“There is something we don't understand,” says an ex-colonel from the helicopter squad. "Why have they postponed the weapons returns? I heard on television that it's for security reasons. But what happened? What are they hiding from us? Is it something terrible?"

Near the square, they are checking cars with a metal detector. On the veranda, there is a sudden flurry of movement. A mouse runs across the square and comes too close to the shoes of the soldier, Hassan: squish.

Nabil Abdussamad, 60, is raising his voice under the windows of the tribunal. "If we give up our weapons, who will defend us? We want security, and we want to know who killed the American ambassador!"

He has smoky-lensed sunglasses, a mustache, and hair dyed black. "With Gaddafi, I had to escape to Lugano, Milan, Vienna. Now that I've come back, I see the thieves all still in their jobs."

Abdussamad explains that he works in the import-export business. "To get the firm a government contract, the ministry asked me for 13 new cars," he says. "Gaddafi's supporters aren't dead, they're still here. They're the ones, (operating now) from Cairo, who are financing the terrorists."

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