Libya starts transition to democracy
TRIPOLI, Libya—Just hours before Libya’s new leaders were to declare liberation and a formal end to an eight-month civil war that toppled the regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi, the country’s chief pathologist on Sunday said an autopsy had confirmed that the dictator died from a gunshot to the head.
The declaration starts the clock on a transition to democracy that is fraught with uncertainty and could take up to two years. However, international concern about the circumstances of Gadhafi’s death and indecision over what to do with his remains overshadowed what was to be a joyful day.
Britain on Sunday said the Gadhafi’s killing had “stained” Libya’s new rulers.
“It’s certainly not the way we do things, it’s not the way we would have liked it to have happened,” Britain’s Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC television in London. “The fledgling Libyan government will understand that its reputation in the international community is a little bit stained by what happened.”
Gadhafi’s body has been on public display in a commercial freezer at a shopping center in the port city of Misrata, which suffered from a bloody siege by Gadhafi forces during the spring.
The 69-year-old dictator was captured wounded but alive on Thursday in his hometown of Sirte as it became the last city to fall to revolutionary forces.
Bloody images of Gadhafi being taunted and beaten by his captors have raised questions about whether he was killed in crossfire as suggested by government officials or deliberately executed.
An autopsy completed on Sunday in Misrata showed that Gadhafi was killed by a shot to the head, said Libya’s chief pathologist, Dr. Othman al-Zintani. He would not disclose further details or elaborate on Gadhafi’s final moments, saying he would first deliver a full report to the attorney general.
At least four groups of doctors had earlier examined the body and determined the cause of death was a bullet to the head and stomach. International rights groups, including Amnesty International, had called for a probe into the killing.
Gadhafi’s widow, Safia, who fled to Algeria in August, has called on the United Nations to investigate the circumstances of her husband’s death, Syria-based Arrai television said.
Most Libyans, however, weren’t concerned about the circumstances of the hated leader’s death, but rather were relieved the country’s ruler of 42 years was gone, clearing the way for a new beginning.
“If he (Gadhafi) was taken to court, this would create more chaos, and would encourage his supporters,” said Salah Zlitni, 31, who owns a pizza parlor in downtown Tripoli. “Now it’s over.”
Libya’s interim leaders were scheduled to formally declare later Sunday the country’s liberation. The ceremony is to take place in the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolution’s birthplace.
The long-awaited declaration starts the clock on Libya’s transition to democracy. The transitional leadership has said it would declare a new interim government within a month of liberation and elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months, to be followed by votes for a parliament and president within a year.
The uprising against the Gadhafi regime erupted in February, as part of antigovernment revolts spreading across the Middle East. Neighboring Tunisia, which set off the so-called Arab Spring with mass protests nearly a year ago, has taken the biggest step on the path to democracy, voting for a new assembly on Sunday in its first truly free elections. Egypt, which has struggled with continued unrest, is next with parliamentary elections slated for November.
Libya’s struggle has been the bloodiest so far in the region. Mass protests quickly turned into a civil war that killed thousands and paralyzed the country for the past eight months. Even after revolutionary forces captured the capital Tripoli in late August, a fugitive Gadhafi and his supporters fought back fiercely from three regime strongholds.
Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte was the last to fall last week, but Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, apparently escaped with some of his supporters.
Libya’s acting prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, who has said he plans to resign after liberation, said Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) must move quickly to disarm former Libyan rebels and make sure huge weapons caches were turned over in coming days. The interim government has not explained in detail how it would tackle the task.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, Jibril also said the Libyan people must remember the agony of the past and choose a different path for the future.
Jibril told British Broadcasting Corp. in comments to be broadcast on Sunday that “at the personal level I wish (Gadhafi) was alive” so he could face questions from the Libyan people buckling under decades of his harsh rule.
Jibril said he would not oppose a full investigation under international supervision into Gadhafi’s death.
Libyan authorities have been arguing on where to bury the remains. Abdel-Basit al-Mzirig, the deputy justice minister, said Gadhafi would be buried according to Islamic tradition, but his burial place will be kept secret.
Fighters from Misrata—a city brutally besieged by regime forces during the civil war—seemed to claim ownership of Gadhafi’s body, forcing the delay of the burial.
On Sunday, however, senior NTC officials said Gadhafi’s body would be handed to his relatives after consulting with them on the location of his burial.
“The decision has been taken to hand him over to his extended family, because none of his immediate family are present at this moment,” another NTC official, Ahmed Jibril, said in Tripoli.
“The NTC is in consultation with his family. It is for his family to decide where Gadhafi will be buried, in consultation with the NTC,” he added.
Men, women and children lined up to view Gadhafi’s body, which was laid out on a mattress on the floor of an emptied-out vegetable freezer. The bodies of Gadhafi’s son Muatassim and Defense Minister Abu Bakr Younis also were put on display on Saturday, although they were covered with blankets so only their faces were visible.
The site’s guards had even organized separate visiting hours for families and single men.
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