TRIPOLI, Libya — Boys and girls chanted anti-Moammar Gadhafi slogans while teachers hung an effigy of the fugitive leader Saturday as Libyan children started their first school year without the "brother leader" dictating everything from the curriculum to what books they should read.
It was a festive atmosphere as children wearing ribbons and decked out in the revolutionary colors of red, green and black greeted each other, many for the first time since Tripoli fell to anti-Gadhafi forces late last month.
"We will have a very good future without Gadhafi," said Bahoula Salam Ergei, a 37-year-old teacher at the Al-Fayha School in Tripoli. "We have to explain to the children what's new with the revolution and help them forget the violence."
As she spoke several boys ran around the courtyard unfurling the revolutionary flag that has replaced Gadhafi's green banner.
The school opening comes as the National Transitional Council, the closest thing to a government in the North African nation, struggles to restore a sense of normalcy despite continued fighting in three southern and central areas that remain loyal to the fugitive leader.
School officials stressed many challenges lie ahead. The second-floor library at the Al-Fayha school is still filled with Gadhafi's "Green Book," a political manifesto that explains his "Third Universal Theory for a new democratic society."
The NTC is expected to provide new books and computers for Libya's schools, but it will take time, said headmistress Moofidha Nashnoush as she rushed through the halls hanging up revolutionary flags and hugging her colleagues.
"In the first day of school, there is a huge difference from before," Nashnoush said. "You can feel the freedom, the victory, you can breathe the freedom."
Teachers at the elementary school, which has about 800 students, said they lacked new books to replace those filled with Gadhafi's teachers. They planned to focus in the beginning on helping the children overcome memories of violence that forced them to stay home as fighting raged in the streets between rebels and Gadhafi loyalists.
On Saturday, dozens of boys and girls filed into the school's courtyard where Neshnoush led them in songs and chants about the new Libya.
School counselor Amal Suleiman el-Aroud was surrounded as she carried a poster of Gadhafi to a concrete platform, yelling "Who is this man?" The children responded, "He is the war criminal, the one who killed our fathers and uncles."
She then tore the poster up and set one of the pieces on fire.
Teachers later strung up a Gadhafi puppet on the flag pole as the children cheered.