Cairo — Muammar Gaddafi was killed yesterday in his hometown of Sirte by forces loyal to Libya’s transitional leadership, with his death sealing the end of his 42-year rule and paving the way for a new chapter in the history of the North African country.
The former strongman died of serious gunshot injuries to the head and stomach, inflicted during his capture, according to medical sources.
Libya’s defence chief, Jalal al Digheily, confirmed Gaddafi’s death in a press conference in Benghazi, the country’s second largest city.
“Although the Libyan revolution achieved one of its objectives by eliminating Gaddafi, the ultimate aim of the revolution is to rebuild the nation on the basis of law, the constitution and justice,” added Al Digheily.
He said attention should now focus on re-establishing security and controlling arms proliferation in the country.
Footage broadcast on regional television stations showed the body of Gaddafi apparently inside an ambulance that took him from Sirte to Misurata, located about 200 kilometres southeast of Tripoli.
Other footage showed him alive, his face covered with blood and surrounded by his captors, before his death was announced.
Libyans had already been pouring into the streets to celebrate the news of Gaddafi’s capture, while Western leaders were quick to call on the country’s transitional government to embrace a new era of democracy after decades of despotism.
The capture and death of Libya’s longtime tyrant was arguably the most dramatic event of the so-called Arab Spring, a period of revolt that began in Tunisia towards the end of last year.
Gaddafi, who had ruled with an iron fist since 1969, was believed to have been captured while driving in a convoy of cars fleeing the city.
Nato, which has been enforcing a no-fly zone and supporting anti-Gaddafi forces with airstrikes, was also believed to have played a role, confirming that its jets had bombed a military “convoy” near Sirte in the morning.
The news of Gaddafi’s death came shortly after troops backed by Libya’s transitional leadership said they had fully captured Gaddafi’s last stronghold.
Gaddafi’s death will allow the transition to a new government in Libya, but much work remains, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.
“Clearly, this day marks an historic transition for Libya,” Ban said.
Ban then urged Libyans to come together and realise a future through national unity and reconciliation Gaddafi’s death “marks the end of an era of despotism and repression from which the Libyan people have suffered for too long,” European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement in Brussels.
British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the “bravery” of Libyans who had liberated their country and said it was important to remember the many victims of the Gaddafi regime.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who until recently portrayed himself as a friend of Gaddafi, said reports that the deposed Libyan leader had been captured signalled the “end to the war” in Libya.
However, Gamal Sultan, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, warned that Libya still faced steep hurdles ahead.
“Building a functioning political system is still a big challenge that Libyans have to face ... The war in Libya is no longer between revolutionary forces and the regime, but of revolutionary forces of different tribal and ideological backgrounds,” Sultan said.
The news of Gaddafi’s capture prompted scenes of jubilation through the streets of Sirte, with televised footage showing anti-Gaddafi fighters celebrating the fall of the port city by shooting in the air as others tore up Gaddafi portraits.
Appearing behind them were heavily damaged buildings in Sirte’s Second District, which had been the scene of stiff resistance put up by Gaddafi loyalists.
Fighters loyal to the transitional leadership said Moutassem, Gaddafi’s fifth son, was also killed in Sirte.
The fate of his bother Saif al-Islam was not clear. Some reports said he had fled to the desert, while others said he was being encircled in Sirte.
According to broadcaster Al Jazeera, forces loyal to the National Transitional Council had also arrested Ahmed Ibrahim, who served as head of a governmental research centre in the Gaddafi regime.
Ibrahim was reportedly one of the key commanders who had been leading the fight against anti-Gaddafi forces in Sirte over the past weeks.
Libya’s former defence minister, Abu Bakr Younis, was also killed in the fighting, according to Free Libya TV.
The National Transitional Council has been running the affairs of the North African country since Gaddafi was deposed in late August.
It had previously said it would delay the formation of an interim government until all the country had been “liberated.”
Meanwhile, the Egyptian government called yesterday on Libya’s transitional leadership to “turn over a new page” to rebuild the country after the killing of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, the Egyptian semi-official newspaper Al Ahram reported online.
“Egypt is ready to help the Libyan brothers rebuild their country and offer all support to Libya’s National Transitional Council to manage the transitional phase,” the paper quoted the government as saying.
Lebanon’s Western-backed opposition leader Saad Hariri warned that “despotic regimes” and “tyrants” across the region would face the fate of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
“The end of Muammar Gaddafi is the inevitable end of all tyrants who have responded to the free, democratic will of their people with killing and oppression and blood,” said the former minister in a statement.
Gaddafi, 69, governed Libya with an iron grip for almost 42 years until a February 15 revolt challenged his rule and pushed the country into civil war which saw his capital overrun in August.