TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s new leaders will declare liberation on Sunday, officials said, a move that will start the clock for elections after months of bloodshed that culminated in the death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
But the victory has been clouded by questions over how Gadhafi was killed after images emerged showing he was found alive and taunted and beaten by his captors.
The long-awaited declaration of liberation will come more than two months after revolutionary forces swept into Tripoli and seized control of most of the oil-rich North African nation. It was stalled by fierce resistance by Gadhafi loyalists in his hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid and pockets in the south.
Sirte was the last to fall, but Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent and many of his fighters have apparently escaped, raising fears they could continue to stir up trouble.
With Gadhafi gone, however, the governing National Transitional Council was moving forward with efforts to transform the country that was ruled by one man for more than four decades into a democracy.
NTC officials had said the announcement would be made Saturday in the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolution’s birthplace. But spokesman Abdel-Rahman Busin said preparations were under way for a Sunday ceremony instead. He didn’t give an explanation for the delay.
The transitional leadership has said it would declare a new interim government within a month of liberation and hold elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months, then to organize a parliamentary and presidential vote within a year after that.
On Saturday, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who has said he plans to resign after liberation, said the interim government “should last until the first presidential elections.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, he also said the NTC must move quickly to disarm rebels who helped to overthrow Gadhafi’s nearly 42-year-old regime. He said it was a priority to ensure huge caches of weapons are turned in over the “next few days.”
Jibril also said the Libyan people must remember the agony of the past and choose a different path for the future. He said he was “relieved” after Gadhafi’s ouster, describing it as a “great moment in my life.”
Gadhafi’s blood-streaked body has been put on display in a commercial freezer at a shopping center in Misrata as Libyan authorities argued about where to bury the remains.
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 a planned burial Friday.
Fathi Bashagha, a spokesman for the Misrata military council, said a decision will be made Saturday but he ruled out a full autopsy unless demanded by an international committee or the transitional government “and so far there have been no requests.”
At least four groups of doctors have examined the body and determined the cause of death was a bullet to the head and stomach, Bashagha said. “As far as we are concerned in Misrata, doctors have checked him and determined how he died, so there is no need to cut his body up,” he said.
The bloody siege of Misrata during the spring instilled a particularly virulent hatred of Gadhafi there – a hatred now mixed with pride because he was captured and killed by fighters from Libya’s third-largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
Residents crowded into long lines to get a chance to view Gadhafi’s body, which was laid out on a mattress on the floor of an emptied-out vegetable freezer. The body had apparently been stowed in the freezer in an attempt to keep it out of the public eye, but once the location was known, that intention was swept away in the overwhelming desire of residents to see the man they so deeply despised.
Men, women and children filed in to take their picture with the body, with some chanting “We want to see the dog.”
The site’s guards had even organized separate visiting hours for families and single men.
Gadhafi’s 69-year-old body was stripped to the waist, his torso and arms streaked with dried blood. Bullet wounds in the chest, abdomen and left side of the head were visible.
Despite the international concern, fighters in Misrata put the bodies of Gadhafi’s son Muatassim and his ex-defense minister Abu Bakr Younis on display in the freezer as well on Saturday, although they covered the corpses with blankets so only their faces were visible.
Gadhafi’s surviving family members, most of whom are in Algeria or other nearby African nations, issued a statement Friday calling for an investigation into how the dictator and another of his sons, Muatassim, were killed. In the statement on the pro-Gadhafi, Syria-based Al-Rai TV station, they asked for international pressure on the NTC to hand over the bodies of the two men to their tribe.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the images of his last moments were very disturbing.
“More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture,” Colville said.