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In Tripoli, forgiveness reigns for now

Libya's National Transition Council in Tripoli is stressing reconciliation instead of revenge. But not all Libyans are convinced the goodwill will last.

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'Some want revenge'

Not all Libyans are convinced that the goodwill is real. "I'm sure if a Qaddafi supporter were here, they would kill him," says one Libyan visiting Abu Salim prison, after hearing the words of forgiveness of several revolutionary fighters who spent time behind bars, and described torture and abuse during the Qaddafi era.

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"Don't believe everything you hear about good treatment," he says. "They say this out of respect for you and to put a good light on it. But some want revenge; it is normal."

Jibril also warned of losing the fight “against ourselves,” and referred obliquely to political divisions that were already emerging within the TNC and revolutionary authorities and commanders.

Those concerns seemed manifest on Friday night at a large anti-Qaddafi rally that filled Green Square – now called Martyrs' Square – with thousands of flag-waving, jubilant Libyans.

But when the head of the Tripoli Military Council, Abdulhakim Belhadj, was getting ready to address the crowd, a fight erupted behind the stage as some revolutionary officers from outside the capital – from places like Misurata, Benghazi, and the western Nafousa mountains, which saw heavy fighting for months – tried to prevent Mr. Belhadj from speaking.

Another scuffle erupted as the Tripoli military chief descended the stage, and officers were overheard complaining that the capital was less safe than it appeared.

Just hours earlier, in the same square, the Friday prayer leader delivered a pertinent sermon. “God will help us solve all the arguments between us, and forgive all those who hurt us,” he said.

The cleric added that Libyans should “shake hands with our enemies; this is what God says to us … . The challenge in front of us is how to forgive; don’t let anyone take you in a different way … . Don’t dirty this revolution.”

'No vengeance. No violence.'

Still, there are positive signs. At state-run TV, the new interim director, Abdul Raouf al-Mannaie, said he had sent a conciliatory note to those who once worked there, which included quoting the prophet Muhammad on forgiving enemies. Within days, half a dozen former senior staff had returned their official latest-model BMW cars, with keys and documents.

“It will be changed from the roots, from the beginning to the end, because we believe in freedom and we took it by blood,” says Mr. Mannaie. “They gave their cars and [official] weapons, and we respected them and treated them very well. If we do differently, how are we different from Qaddafi?”

The official sentiment has even taken root on the battlefield. While Tripoli fell to rebels in three days, when the push finally came, revolutionary leaders took a much more flexible approach with holdout pro-Qaddafi cities like Bani Walid, 90 miles southeast of here, and Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, to the east.

Several deadlines passed in the space of two weeks for both cities to lay down their weapons. Libya's new leaders said they didn't want a fight and wanted to avoid any more bloodshed. But negotiations – all of them rich with talk of reconciliation – failed as the new Libya ran into the old. Fighters began battling for Bani Walid late Friday, and reported breaching the gates of the city overnight.

That hasn’t stopped the messengers of the new Libya from trying to forge a different future. Besides the anti-Qaddafi venom on the prison walls, these words can also be found on one Tripoli street corner: “No vengeance. No violence. Clean it up and keep it clean.”

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