Gaddafi's dream in ruins
Sirte – Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte, the city he once dreamed would be the capital of the United States of Africa, lay in ruins on Thursday, blitzed and largely overrun by the fighters the Libyan dictator called "dogs".
Burnt-out hulks of cars lined the streets where every building bore the rocket and bullet marks of the month-long siege National Transitional Council forces waged against pro-Gaddafi diehards before fighting their way in block by block.
NTC fighter Lutfy Al-Amin, from the city of Misrata, said he had visited Sirte many times before but barely recognised the once-wealthy city now.
"Everything is destroyed," he said on Wednesday as he and his comrades fought one of the last pockets of Gaddafi supporters still holding out in the city that before the siege was home to around 100 000 people.
"But it was their mistake. If they'd surrendered we wouldn't have done this," said the 37-year-old postal worker.
Al-Amin's own city was devastated by a months-long siege by Gaddafi forces after the uprising against the now fugitive strongman began in February.
But Misrata held out - despite the deaths of around 1 400 of its people - and its battle-hardened fighters later helped take the capital Tripoli before they headed to Sirte to continue their war there.
On Thursday they and fighters from the eastern city of Benghazi - where the uprising kicked off on February 17 - were streaming through most of Sirte firing their guns in the air in celebration.
They rode the city's streets in their black-painted pick-up trucks with machine-guns or anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back, fiercely proud of the victory that had left dozens of their companions dead and hundreds wounded.
Some green flags of the Gaddafi regime still flutter on rooftops but they were quickly being replaced with the red, black and green banners of the revolution.
Fighters moved from house to house, hunting for weapons or suspected Gaddafi fighters and sometimes making off with bags full of looted possessions and leaving trashed homes in their wake.
Some Sirte residents had remained throughout the siege. The new regime fighters suspected many of the men folk of being Gaddafi fighters and hauled them off to prison.
A procession of confiscated vehicles were driven or towed out of the town that Gaddafi transformed into a showcase of his self-proclaimed revolution.
After he seized power in 1969, he turned a sleepy Mediterranean seaside village into a small city with a massive programme of public work.
It was in Sirte that Gaddafi held a meeting of African leaders that established the African Union, which the dictator followed up with a proposal to create a United States of Africa with his hometown as the capital.
Ouagadougou conference centre
The centrepiece of Gaddafi’s grandiose project in Sirte was the Ouagadougou conference centre, a giant marble-lined hall where he hosted summits of foreign heads of state.
The centre was the target of heavy shelling by NTC fighters who later moved in and spread throughout the sprawling complex, tearing down portraits of the fugitive Gaddafi and the green flags of his fallen 42-year regime.
The centre's huge windows were all blasted and its metal roof had caved in under the artillery barrage.
The devastation was general across Sirte, from Gaddafi’s palatial compound - battered by Nato bombs - in the southwest to the four-lane beachfront highway, strewn with debris and lined with apartment buildings with gaping holes from artillery fire.
"We didn't do this for revenge. We just wanted to stop them and be free," said postal worker Al-Amin.