Gaddafi is still in hearts of Bani Walid residents

Bani Walid was one of the last towns to fall to the rebels last year and was the scene of new violence earlier this week.

Bani Walid: Residents of the Libyan oasis town of Bani Walid, long a bastion of Muammar Gaddafi`s regime, are resigned to the country`s new leadership but say the slain dictator lives on in their hearts.

The town, which was one of the last towns to fall to the rebels last year and was the scene of new violence earlier this week, fared well during the Gaddafi era when it was a major recruitment ground for his regime`s elite troops.

"Muammar is in our hearts. If someone here tells you otherwise, he is lying," said Salahuddin al-Werfelli, 19. "A revolution, what revolution? The new authorities
represent (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy and some European countries, not Libyans," he said with clear contempt for the UN-mandated Western military support the rebels received during last year`s uprising.

In public, residents insisted they were supporters of the "February 17 Revolution" that overthrew Gaddafi but in private they expressed nostalgia for his ousted regime.

"We are forced to adapt but 99 per cent of Bani Walid`s population still loves Muammar," said Boubakr, a 24-year-old law student.

"Our house was given to my father by Muammar," said Boubakr, who lives near the former rebel militia base which was at the centre of Monday`s fighting and which still bears the scars of the ferocious exchanges. Burnt-out cars and empty bullet cases lie all around.

The details of the clashes in the sprawling oasis, 170 kilometres southeast of Tripoli, which killed seven people and wounded 12, remain the subject of some dispute.

Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelali initially denied that Gaddafi supporters were involved in the violence before admitting that he did not know.

Residents said the green flag of Gaddafi`s regime was not flown during Monday`s clashes as reported by some local officials.

They said the fighting pitted the May 28 Brigade of former rebel fighters against a group of heavily armed residents who had come to the base to seek the release of a relative from custody.

Residents said the man being held may have fought with Gaddafi`s forces during the uprising and been detained by the brigade after they recognised him.

There is widespread resentment in Bani Walid towards the former rebels whose roadblocks criss-cross the town. Members of the brigade are accused of thefts and arbitrary arrests as well as other abuses.