Disquiet grows over how Gaddafi met his end

TRIPOLI - Disquiet grew on Friday over how ousted despot Moamer Gaddafi met his end after being taken alive, as Libya's new leaders faced huge pressure to proclaim liberation and launch the transition to democracy.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) leaders have also been cagey about plans for Gaddafi's burial, not wishing to see his grave become a rallying point for residual loyalists, and on Friday said no decision had yet been taken.

Question marks remained about the demise of Gaddafi, who was shot in the head on Thursday after being captured at a sewage culvert on the outskirts of Sirte as NTC fighters crushed his very last pockets of support in his hometown.

Two videos taken on mobile phones appeared to show him captured bloodied but still alive and then lynched by his captors.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay called for an investigation, while in London Foreign Secretary William Hague made it clear Britain does not approve of "extrajudicial killing."

"On the issue of Gaddafi's death yesterday, the circumstances are still unclear. There should be some kind of investigation given what we saw yesterday," Pillay's spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

"There are four or five different versions of how he died," said Colville.

"The two videos ... taken together are very disturbing."

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.

Gaddafi's body was laid out overnight in a private residence in Misrata - Libya's third-largest city, which his forces devastated in a protracted siege that proved to be one of the turning points of the eight-month uprising.

At a news conference late on Thursday, hours after Gaddafi's death was announced, the NTC indicated that the former Libyan leader would be buried at an unknown location after an autopsy.

But on Friday there was still no news of the burial.

"No decision has been taken on the subject of Gaddafi's burial," nor on whether his body would remain in Misrata, Libya's information minister Mahmud Shamam told AFP.

The NTC has also so far held off on a promised declaration that the country was finally freed, which would pave the way for the formation of an interim government to oversee the drawing up of a new constitution and the holding of free elections after the decades of dictatorship.

Interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril said the promised declaration would be made "by Friday," but there was no sign of where and when this would take place.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on the country's new rulers to hasten their promised transition to democracy following the confirmation of Gaddafi's death.

"The liberation of Sirte should mark, in accordance with commitments taken by the NTC, the start of the process ... 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.

With one of Gaddafi's sons - his longtime heir-apparent Seif al-Islam - still unaccounted for in the routing of loyalist forces, NTC leaders appeared to be holding fire, despite the scenes of jubilation in towns across the country at the news that the once-all powerful tyrant was dead.

Jibril said Seif al-Islam was believed to be pinned down in a village near Sirte.

For Libyans whose rebellion had cost more than 25,000 lives, the demise of the hated dictator sparked a spontaneous outpouring of joy and celebratory gunfire.

And world governments hailed Kadhafi's death as marking the end of an era of dictatorship.

Foreign Secretary Hague said Britain does not approve of "extrajudicial killing" but will not mourn Gaddafi, whom it held 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.

"We would have liked him to face justice for his crimes in a court, in an international or Libyan court, and we don't approve of extrajudicial killing," Hague told Sky News.

"But we are not going to mourn him. There are so many thousands who have died in this conflict, and the end of the battle in Sirte and the death of Gaddafi does mark that big opportunity now for the Libyans to move on."

Paris and Washington revealed that their aircraft had both intervened when a fugitive convoy, believed to be carrying Gaddafi, fled Sirte on Thursday as NTC fighters, who had laid siege to the Mediterranean coastal city for two months, overran the last redoubt of loyalist forces.

A US defence official said a US Predator drone along with a French fighter jet had attacked a convoy of vehicles that Paris believed was carrying Moamer Gaddafi.

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet had earlier revealed that a French Mirage-2000 fired a warning shot at a column of several dozen vehicles fleeing Sirte.

The US defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the unmanned Predator aircraft had struck "the same convoy" but could not confirm that Gaddafi was in one of the vehicles.

Longuet told reporters in Paris that the convoy "was stopped from progressing as it sought to flee Sirte but was not destroyed by the French intervention."

Libyan fighters then stepped in, destroying the vehicles, from which "they took out Colonel Gaddafi," he added.

On Friday, NATO revealed in its latest operational update that its war planes had struck 11 armed vehicles in the vicinity of Sirte the previous day.

The 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 to gather at 1430 GMT on Friday to discuss formally ending the mission, an alliance official said.


COMMENTS