TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi, with his pocked face and curly hair, may have been one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, but the capital he lorded over is doing its best to forget him.
“Let the dust of the desert sweep over the hole where he was buried,” Mohammed al Sharif said in English, to nods of approval from friends, on the day the dead dictator’s decomposing body was consigned to precisely that -- a secret desert grave.
“Then the name ‘Muammar’ can be forgotten and our children will never know of this time,” he said.
With every car that drives along the coast road, every tea served in a cafe and every child who toddles down its streets with no knowledge of the huge figure who has just been buried, Tripoli is doing its best to put Gaddafi and his legacy well behind it.
“Look around you,” Mustafa Khatei, 32, said as he stood on a narrow lane way near the old city area, shoppers frustrated by his position in their path, muttering as they bustle past.
“What do you see?” he said. “Life goes on.”
He pointed at men sitting at one of the trendier coffee shops and, approaching with a wave, commented that among them was an aspiring writer who had said “something beautiful.”
It is remarkable how quickly most traces of Gaddafi are being erased, after his four decades in power.
Families wander past stalls selling souvenirs of the revolution -- T-shirts, flags, mugs -- near his Bab al-Aziziyah compound, almost completely demolished by his enemies.
In areas where garish portraits depicting Gaddafi as Africa’s “King of Kings” once hung proudly, shops blast out revolutionary songs written for what is often called “new Libya.”
During the war, an increasingly desperate Gaddafi camp manufactured what was reputed to be the world’s biggest poster, featuring a defiant sunglasses-wearing leader, and laid it out on the ground of the capital’s main square in an apparent attempt to demonstrate he was still adored by his people.
On that very spot Tuesday, Tripolitanians -- chatting under a clear blue Mediterranean sky after a long night of thunder and lightning -- debated the morning’s burial of Gaddafi and his son Mo‘tassim in a secret desert location after their rotting bodies were removed from public show.
“Throw him in a hole, throw him in the sea, throw him in garbage. No matter,” Ali Azzarog, a 47-year-old engineer, said near the port, where ships’ horns earlier blared their approval of the news.
“He is lower than a donkey or a dog and only foreigners say that they care about how we killed him. And they are lying.”
Azzarag was alluding to a growing realization among Libyans that the manner in which Gaddafi was killed -- mocked, battered, abused and then shot despite being captured alive -- is causing hand-wringing in the West, worrying the interim government’s backers and human rights groups.
That his body was laid out on a filthy mattress in a walk-in fridge for days, and subjected to the macabre spectacle of people posing beside it as their friends took cellphone photographs, has added to a sense of queasiness outside Libya.
Some Libyans, though they seem to be in the minority, echo that largely Western sentiment and say they wanted a trial to force Gaddafi to spill secrets and confess crimes.
“I regret it, really,” said lawyer Sawani Ghanem, 30, adding that Gaddafi had tainted Libya as a land of terrorists.
“We should have tried to show the world we could be more humane and aspire for change.”
But his friend, Abdul, a university lecturer, disagreed and, pointing at the sea, mentioned Osama Bin Laden.
“Americans throwing Osama in the sea is respect? What about Mussolini?” he said. Italy’s wartime dictator was shot dead and then hung up on a meat hook for display in central Milan.
“Mussolini and Gaddafi got the same. After 42 years of crime, why care? Every Libyan wanted him dead.”
Abdul was wrong, though. Near the port, in a local hotel, a waiter, unsolicited, approached a foreign journalist with a question: “Do you think the leader was a coward?”
“If you say Gaddafi died like a coward, you are wrong,” he continued.
“He died proud like a lion. He said he would never leave Libya and he did not leave. Fight, fight, fight. I was not a Gaddafi supporter before this revolution but when I saw his bravery, I knew he was the only man for Libya.”
The waiter said he was too scared to give his name, and insisted there were many who felt the same as he did.
“In their homes, they cry. They cry for the strong man.”
Editing by Michael Roddy