Shelby: After more than forty years in power, Libyan leaders say their former dictator Muammar Gaddafi is dead. Celebrations filled the streets.
Gaddafi’s death comes after eight months of civil war in Libya.
“This is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.”
Shelby: The 69-year-old dictator was one of the world’s most controversial leaders. He came to power at the age of 27 after he helped overthrow the king of Libya in 1969. At first, he brought change to Libya and helped people get out of poverty. He improved schools and modernized the country. But he began ruling with an iron fist, stopping anyone who stood in his way.
“Some people have disappeared. Some have been convicted to very long sentences in prison.”
Shelby: What happened in Libya is part of a bigger picture, a bigger change in the Arab world. Since last December, people in many countries have been protesting against their governments, fighting for leaders to step down. They want change. It is called the Arab Spring. It is one of the reasons the U.S. was quick to support Libyan rebels. And Gaddafi had long been out of favor with the U.S. He supported groups that he called liberation movements, but many others called terrorism. For example, he was linked to a deadly bombing at a dance club in Germany that was popular with American servicemen. America fought back by bombing Libya, a move that seemed to turn Gaddafi even more against America.
“You are ready to fight with us, we are ready to fight with you.”
Shelby: Two years later, in what many believed was Gaddafi’s response, a bomb blew up a plane over Scotland, killing 270 people. Gaddafi denied ordering the bombing but Libya did pay a financial settlement to families of the American victims.
In recent years, Gaddafi changed his image. He wanted to become an ally to the West in the fight against terrorism.
“We should project terrorism as an enemy to civilization, and it should be fought by all of us.”
Shelby: But in Libya, things didn’t change. His government was known for violence and attacking civilians. Eight months ago, his own people rose up against him. With help from the U.S. and other countries, they toppled his government. Gaddafi had been in hiding. He was reportedly killed in his hometown, the city of Sirte. It was the last area that Gaddafi supporters had held up against the rebels.
Libya’s new leaders say the country has been waiting for this moment for a long time. So have libyans around the world.
“Just the spirit of the people are reborn. People are alive. They feel proud to be Libyan for the first time.”
Shelby: Even though Gaddafi’s death is what the rebel groups have been fighting for, there is still more to be done in Libya. There is no clear leader now, and the country has been torn apart by war. And because Libya is made up of many different tribes of people who don’t get along, many worry Gaddafi’s death could end this battle but start other battles. For now, the country enters a new era. And for many in Libya, this is cause enough for celebration.
President Obama said the new government needs to start thinking about holding Libya’s first fair elections.