Battle for Libyan city exposes Gaddafi decadence
SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - When Libyan government fighters seized the vacant home of Muammar Gaddafi's daughter, Aisha, the wealth and opulence they found sent some of them into a rage.
One fighter walked through the door and sprayed the interior with bullets from his Kalashnikov rifle. "She's a bitch," he said. "She has a nice house. They are rich. They do not care about us."
Alongside the fierce fighting in the streets, the battle for the city of Sirte has also been a collision between two parts of Libyan society.
One the one side is the pro-Gaddafi elite, many of them members of Gaddafi's tribe or extended family who benefited from his largesse and lived in his home-town of Sirte, a showpiece of his 42-year rule.
One the other side, the ordinary people who -- while not poor by regional standards -- only saw a small share of Libya's huge energy wealth.
As forces with the National Transitional Council (NTC) fight their way into Sirte and take control of more of the city, they have been confronted with the reality of how their rulers lived.
Fighters who took control of the capital Tripoli in August had found similar opulence in the houses of Gaddafi family members.
NTC fighters inside Aisha Gaddafi's house, a villa fronted with columns and marble steps, came out clutching gilt-framed photographs of the Gaddafi family. One man displayed a gold cutlery set laid out in its wooden box.
Aisha fled in August to neighboring Algeria with her mother, brother and half-brother.
There were more displays of wealth in the Ouagadougou conference center, a complex Gaddafi had built to host foreign leaders and bolster his ambition of turning his hometown into Libya's de facto capital.
A private reception area was decorated with red carpets and chandeliers. Outside, NTC fighters had found a golf cart with the Cadillac emblem on the radiator grill and a steering wheel crafted out of what appeared to be rosewood or mahogany.
Gaddafi follows in a line of leaders whose extravagance was exposed when they were deposed.
When Philippines leader Ferdinand Marcos fled, U.S. Customs agents discovered 24 suitcases of gold bricks and diamond jewelry As well as his wife Imelda's extensive shoe collection.
After the invasion of Iraq, U.S. soldiers discovered around $950 million in Saddam Hussein's family palaces, Iraqi government guest houses and dog kennels.
In another part of Sirte was evidence of one of Gaddafi's hobbies: a model farm just south of the city center.
It included a dozen enormous dovecotes, each about 60 ft high, and a herd of cows. One of the herd, a Friesian, wandered into a gun battle earlier this week and was shot in the cross-fire. Its body lay in a road.
The farm appeared to be part of Gaddafi's effort to present himself as a Libyan everyman rooted in frugal rural traditions.
Ibrahim Mletan is the commander of an NTC unit from the nearby city of Misrata, but is originally from Sirte. He said he had looked at Gaddafi's farm from a distance for 35 years but until now had not been able to set foot on it.
"He's trying to show the world that he is a Bedouin, that he has nothing, and that he lives in a tent. It's lies. He's a hypocrite," said Mletan.
(Additional reporting by Saad Shalash in Sirte, Libya; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Diana Abdallah)
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