As National Transitional Council supporters rejoiced at the news of Muammar Gaddafi's death in Libya, European and US leaders expressed hope that the country's new rulers will navigate complicated tribal divisions to forge a unified democracy.
World leaders welcomed the news of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s death on Thursday, saying it hailed a new era for the Libyan people. But many also worried about the circumstances of the former Libyan leader’s death and the risk of a violent post-regime power struggle.
Britain and France, the European powers that pushed hardest for a NATO-backed intervention and whose military cover was decisive in toppling Gaddafi, said they hoped his death would mark the start of a new era of democracy in the North African country.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Gaddafi’s death was “a major step forward” in the months-long struggle of Libyans to “liberate themselves from the dictatorial and violent regime imposed on them for more than 40 years.” British Prime Minister David Cameron remembered Gaddafi’s victims and said his death gave Libya a chance for a "democratic future.”
US President Barack Obama declared “the dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted”, and urged Libyans to begin to build a “democratic” and “tolerant” nation. "The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges. Now is the time for all Libyans to come together," Obama added. Moments later, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Libyans to come together. “The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges,” Ban warned.
With a more cautious tone, China’s foreign ministry said it hoped the country would start an “inclusive political transition process as soon as possible to safeguard ethnic and national unity.” China had invested heavily in Gaddafi’s Libya with roads and other infrastructure and asked National Transitional Council leaders last month to guarantee Chinese interests in the oil-rich state.
Quoted by Egypt’s MENA news agency, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby also called for unity, and advised Libyans to “overcome the wounds of the past, look towards the future away from sentiments of hatred and revenge.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Gaddafi defender throughout the violent unrest, was one of the few leaders to lament his death. “We will remember him as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr,” Chavez told Telesur news agency, adding that there was “dignity” in the Libyan people and that their “victory was just starting.”
Filling power vacuum
Gaddafi is said to have been found in a sewage pipe in his hometown of Sirte, which was under siege for two months before it was taken by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council and Western powers on Thursday. He reportedly sought shelter in the drainage area after his convoy was hit by a NATO airstrike led by France and the US.
A quick and secret burial for Gaddafi was due on Friday, the Reuters news agency reported. "It's time to start a new Libya, a united Libya," transitional Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril declared on Thursday. "One people, one future."
However, gruesome images of Gaddafi after his capture by NTC forces underscored concerns about the new leadership. Videos showed a dazed and bloodied Gaddafi taken alive by frenzied soldiers.
Jibril insisted on Thursday that Gaddafi had succumbed to a gunshot wound to the head before he could be taken to a hospital. Libya’s new leadership had pledged to bring their tyrannical former ruler to court to face atrocity charges.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Stockholm would have preferred to see the former ruler “captured alive so that he could be brought to justice.” The London-based rights group Amnesty International called for “a full, independent and impartial inquiry to establish the circumstances of Colonel Gaddafi's death.”
Writing on Le Monde’s website, Gilles Paris, international news chief for the leading French daily, reminded readers that divisions at the heart of the transitional council were already visible “between ‘politicians’ and military men, in particular.”
Le Monde’s Paris also highlighted regional divisions between the liberated cities of Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli. “We have at least three regional poles whose relationship still needs to be defined, but that in a worse-case scenario could lead to a confrontation,” the journalist warned.
The AP news agency reported Friday that armed militias had emerged as de facto rulers in some areas of the country. Jibril has indicated he will step aside once Libya's liberation is complete, but it was not immediately clear who would emerge to fill the power vacuum left in Gaddafi’s wake.