Middle East

Gadhafi's enemies first guests at showpiece hotel

SIRTE, Libya: Rocket holes pockmark its concrete walls, the glass is riddled with bullets and blood stains the marble staircase in what is left of the luxurious seaside hotel in Muammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte.

The seven-floor building, replete with luxurious beach villas, indoor swimming pools and jacuzzis overlooking the Mediterranean, was built by Gadhafi to host world leaders and state guests.

But, completed only recently, the hotel has not seen any of those guests, and now the rag-tag army of civilians battling to take the coastal city from Gadhafi loyalists are the first ones to arrive.

"It is a brand new hotel, no one ever slept here before, the revolutionaries are the first people," said fighter Saleh al-Wared, as he moved from one room to another showing journalists around.

"Look at that. Come see where is the phone, it is in the bathroom ... you can only dream to stay in this place."

Others were taking videos of each other swimming in the indoor pool and enjoying some of the luxury that was formerly the preserve of foreign guests and the ruling elite.

Fighters loyal to Libya's new interim rulers say the hotel, with its conference halls, meeting rooms, restaurants and shops, gym and spa, was meant to house Gadhafi's guests.

"It was built for the delegations that come to Muammar. Normal people cannot stay here, except if you had money, maybe 500-600 dinars a night," said NTC fighter Ayad.

The rooms, with their flat-screen televisions, marble floors and mahogany wooden wardrobes, are now used by fighters with the National Transitional Council to fire their heavy machine guns at Gaddafi loyalists.

They take cover behind mattresses and tables when snipers open fire. An empty jacuzzi on a balcony is used to store ammunition.

"He (Gadhafi) called the villas after the names of his sons and family members," Wared said, of the U-shape private villas on the sandy Mediterranean beaches.

"Benghazi and the east, that was Libya. Here, this is the Great Jamahiriyah," he said, referring to the quixotic system of rule built up during 42 years under Gaddafi.

RESENTMENT

The Sirte hotel is similar to many other opulent five-star hotels in other oil-rich Arab countries, but stands in contrast with the run-down hotels in Libya's second-biggest city of Benghazi in the east.

Many Libyans resent Gadhafi and his family for their lavish lifestyle and say residents of Tripoli and Sirte are wealthier than the rest of the country. 

In Benghazi, people blame years of decay, neglect and isolation -- symbolised by the city's crumbling buildings, broken roads and narrow rubbish-strewn alleys and swarms of flies -- on Gaddafi's one-man-rule.

They say Gadhafi took better care of the capital Tripoli and Sirte, his hometown and the bastion of his tribe, al-Gadhafa, because the once "Brother Leader" feared Benghazi's rebellious nature would threaten his rule.

"It is the first time in our lives that we see something like this hotel and now we are staying in it with our weapons," said NTC fighter Osama Rajab Najem, from Benghazi.

"They used to search us every time we would come to the gates of Sirte. Sometimes they would know by our dialect that we were from Benghazi."

Now they say they will rebuild Sirte, which has been under heavy bombardment by NTC and NATO forces over the past weeks. Smoke rises above the city and many of its buildings and infrastructure are now in ruins.

In one example, NTC fighters have blown up a green concrete gate, 50 km from Sirte, but the blast did not completely demolish the gate, seen as a symbol of Gadhafi's rule. Fighters then showered it with bullets. The names of their dead are written on the remaining concrete.

"We don't want anything that reminds us of Moammar," said one of the rebels manning the checkpoint into the city.

"By the time we enter Sirte, there will be no Sirte," another NTC fighter said on the frontline a few kilometers away from the city centre, as tanks and artillery fired at buildings where Gadhafi loyalists are thought to be hiding.

As he surveyed the damage, he shrugged his shoulders and added: "We will rebuild Sirte." 

 

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