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Ramadan Iftar Cannon Returns to Tripoli

FILE: A cannon fires a ceremonial shot to start iftar, the evening meal for breaking fast, on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul, Turkey, May 27, 2017.

TRIPOLI - The blast of a cannon booms across Tripoli, but it doesn't signal another round of fighting in the Libyan capital - rather, the revival of a long-lost Ramadan tradition.

Officers in berets rolled out a red carpet on the iconic Martyrs' Square on Thursday for the 600-year-old weapon, setting of a resounding blast moments before the sunset call to prayer that ends the day's Ramadan fast..

The cannon, announcing the end of the first daytime fast of the holy month, is a tradition observed across the Muslim world, but Libya had not seen it since the end of the 1970s when dictator Muammar Kadhafi tried to wipe the slate of Libyan history clean.

"It's a way to bring joy to the people of Tripoli," said Akram Dribika, the city official organizing the event. "It sends a message that life has returned" to Libya.

- 'Beautiful surprise' -

The origin of the Iftar cannon remains unclear, but it was likely born in Ottoman-ruled Egypt in the 19th century, when authorities wanted to inform a population with few watches or clocks that the fast was nearly over.

In Martyrs' Square, Nouri Sayeh said he just happened to be passing when he saw the cannon, a "beautiful surprise".

"This is part of our Ramadan heritage. It's really important and it's a tradition we should continue," the 32-year-old said.

The cannon firing is part of a wider effort by authorities and civil society to revive the old medina of Tripoli, after decades of neglect during Kadhafi's 40-year rule and the chaos that followed.

After breaking fast, Libyan families flock to the old city and Martyrs' Square, buying candy for their children. Young people sit on benches and drink coffee or take selfies in front of the Ramadan decorations.

For the second year running, the municipality has adorned the main squares and alleys with bunting, traditional lanterns and shapes of the crescent moon, a symbol of Islam.

Rasha Ben Ghara, who grew up in the neighborhood, said she loves seeing the crowds and lights.

Years previously, people had to use the torches of their phones to pick through the old city's unpaved alleyways, she said.

"People used to come to shop in the souk, but today they come to admire the view and the heritage," the 35-year civil servant said.

Even young people say they love the old city.

Motassam Hassan, a 20-year-old computer science student, said he hoped the rest of Libya could see similar efforts at renovation.

"What we see in the medina should be replicated everywhere, beyond Tripoli, so everywhere lights up like this."