TRIPOLI, Oct 21 (AFP) - Libya's leaders were under pressure today to proclaim the country's liberation and move toward democracy, amid euphoria over the killing of despot Muammar Gaddafi under still murky circumstances.
|Libyans perform the Friday noon prayer outdoors in Tripoli's Martyrs Square. AFP
With suggestions, including from Russia, that the deposed dictator may have been summarily executed after his capture on Thursday, Russia, the UN human rights chief and Amnesty International called for an investigation.
For its part, the United States called on the National Transitional Council to provide a “transparent account” of Gaddafi’s death.
The NTC, Libya's new rulers, had been expected to issue a promised declaration that the country was finally freed following the death of Gaddafu, his son Mutassim and other top regime figures, and the fall of his hometown Sirte.
That would be followed by the formation of an interim government to oversee drawing up a new constitution and holding free elections after four decades of dictatorship.
But with another Gaddafi’s son -- longtime heir-apparent Seif al-Islam -- still unaccounted for, NTC leaders waited, despite jubilation in towns across the country at the news that the once all-powerful tyrant was dead.
On Friday, Gaddafi’s body was being held in a refrigerated chamber outside Misrata, an AFP correspondent reported, with the authorities wanting to run DNA tests before the burial.
NTC leaders were cagey about plans for that, not wishing to see the grave become a rallying point for residual loyalists.
Question marks remained over how Gaddafi met his end after NTC fighters hauled him out of a culvert where he was hiding, with several videos showing him still alive at that point.
Footage showed the former dictator, his face half-covered in blood, being dragged towards a vehicle by a delirious crowd and forced onto the bonnet.
|The dead bodies of Muammar Gaddafi (front) and his son Mo'tassim are displayed inside a metal storage freezer in Misrata yesterday, Reuters
Those at the front, pushed and shook him, pulled him by the hair and hit him, with him appearing at one point as if he were trying to speak out.
Subsequent footage showed him being hauled off the vehicle, still very much alive, and hustled through the screaming crowd, before sight of him was lost in the crush, and the crackle of gunfire was heard.
NTC leaders are adamant he was shot in the head when he was caught “in crossfire” between his supporters and new regime fighters soon after his capture. “There have been rumours flying around since the killing of Gaddafi, after images were released, claiming that our revolutionaries slaughtered him,” a senior NTC official said.
“No instructions were given to kill Gaddafi, and we do not believe our revolutionaries intentionally killed him.”
But in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the “way his death happened poses an entire number of questions,” and called for a probe.
“The images we saw on television show that he was taken prisoner while wounded, and then later, once already a prisoner, his life was taken away.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the NTC “has already been working to determine the precise cause and circumstances of Gaddafi’s death, and we obviously urge them to do so in an open and transparent manner as we move forward.
“We also continue to urge them, as we have been over the past months, to treat prisoners humanely,” Toner added.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay also called for an investigation. “On the issue of Gaddafi’s death, the circumstances are still unclear,” her spokesman Rupert Colville said. “There should be some kind of investigation given what we saw yesterday.”
Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International, said that if Gaddafi “was killed after his capture, it would constitute a war crime and those responsible should be brought to justice.”
“Investigating whether or not his death was a war crime might be unpopular. However, the NTC must apply the same standards to all, affording justice even to those who categorically denied it to others,” Cordone added.“The new Libya must be built on respect for human rights and justice, not retribution for the wrongs of the past.”
But for Libyans whose rebellion had cost more than 25,000 lives, the demise of the hated dictator sparked an outpouring of joy and celebratory gunfire that carried into Friday.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain does not approve of “extrajudicial killing” but will not mourn Gaddafi. London holds him responsible for ordering the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie as well as arming the Irish Republican Army in its deadly campaign of bombings.
Paris and Washington revealed that their aircraft had intervened when a convoy, believed to be carrying Gaddafi, fled Sirte as NTC fighters overran the last redoubt of loyalist forces.
A US defence official said a Predator drone along with a French fighter jet had attacked a convoy that Paris believed was carrying Gaddafi.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet revealed that a French Mirage-2000 fired a warning shot at a column of several dozen fleeing vehicles.
The US official said the Predator had struck “the same convoy” but could not confirm that Gaddafi was in one of the vehicles.
Libyan fighters then stepped in, destroying the vehicles, from which “they took out Colonel Gaddafi,” Longuet said.
On Friday, NATO revealed that its warplanes had struck 11 armed vehicles in the vicinity of Sirte the previous day.
Russia's Lavrov questioned the propriety of striking the convoy.
“There is no link between a no-fly zone and ground targets, including this convoy,” he said. “Even more so since civilian life was not in danger because it (the convoy) was not attacking anyone.”
The air strikes marked the culmination of a NATO-led air war mandated by the United Nations to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces that the alliance said would now wind down.
NATO ambassadors were gathering on Friday to discuss formally ending the mission, an alliance official said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Libya's new rulers to hasten the promised transition to democracy following the confirmation of Gaddafi’s death.
“The liberation of Sirte should mark, in accordance with commitments taken by the National Transitional Council, the start of the process accepted by the NTC to establish a democratic system in Libya in which all components of the country will have their place and in which fundamental freedoms will be guaranteed,” he said.
The NTC is faced with the daunting task of consolidating its authority, and to get the overall economy and oil production back up and running, as well as disarming the population, creating a civil society and ensuring reconciliation among old enemies.