Tripoli // Libya's interim government drew a line in history last night before tens of thousands of people, declaring the country officially liberated from the Qaddafi regime after 42 years of totalitarian and often brutal rule.
At a ceremony in Benghazi, the city where the revolt ignited on February 15 and where rebels first took up arms against the dictator, the interim leader inaugurated the new era with a jubilant note.
"Reconciliation is essential for the success of the revolution," said Mahmoud Jalil, wearing a dark pinstriped suit and black-and-white polka dot tie.
Mr Jalil appealed to his countrymen to address property and other disputes through the law, not by force, and promised that the country would be governed by laws that had Sharia as their source.
In an unexpected announcement, he said a law banning multiple wives would be overturned and that it was possible that non-Sharia banking would be made illegal.
The official declaration of liberation set in motion an eight-month countdown until the election of an assembly to write a new constitution and hold presidential and parliamentary elections a year later.
More so than Egypt or Tunisia, whose protesters inspired Libyans by toppling their autocratic leaders, Libya will have to start the construction of a democratic state from scratch. There are no political parties, and even organised social groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are less developed than in other countries because they were outlawed by the Qaddafi regime.
The declaration in Benghazi was itself one of the National Transitional Council's first political gestures. It was not made in Tripoli, the capital and seat of the interim government; nor was it in Misurata, the battered city where the lifeless, bloodied bodies of Qaddafi and his son Mutassim were brought as spoils of war on Thursday.
It will fall to Mr Jalil, a former justice minister under Qaddafi, and his interim cabinet to soothe fractures between the different cities in regions of the country as they all vie for control and construction funds in the year ahead. This challenge is especially fraught because of the abundance of weapons, mostly AK-47s and FN assault rifles, in the hands of the Libyan people.
Even the bodies of Qaddafi and his son were driving cracks through the nascent state. An autopsy revealed yesterday said Qaddafi was killed by a bullet to the temple, making it increasingly likely that he was executed by Misurata fighters after being captured alive in Sirte. Visitors pored into a cold storage container to view the bodies for the third straight day yesterday but the scratch marks, bruises, and bullet wounds apparent on Friday and Saturday were covered up.
While few have expressed regrets that the former "brother leader" was dead, there were fears that a possible execution augured more tribal and regional tensions as the country is rebuilt. Footage of Qaddafi in his final moments shows one man slapping him saying "This is for Misurata, you dog" while Qaddafi pleads "Do you know right from wrong?"
An ambulance driver who allegedly brought the body to Misurata said in an interview with Reuters that Qaddafi was already dead by the time he saw him, conflicting with the NTC official version that he was killed by bullets between NTC fighters and Qaddafi loyalists while lying in the back of an ambulance.
Now the Qadhafi tribe, of which Qaddafi was the most famous member, may be given his body for burial after the NTC consults with them on where to place the final remains, according to one official yesterday.
Worries over the future of the country appeared to fall away, if only temporarily, as Libyans across the country ventured into public squares and streets to wave flags and celebrate the end of the armed conflict that saw thousands of citizens and soldiers lose their lives.
Camels were slaughtered in Martyr's Square, formerly known as Green Square, in Tripoli as popcorn and candy floss were dispensed from vendors in the crowds.
"It's like the best Eid we've ever had, " said Nisreen Arbigi, 20, a pharmaceutical student at Tripoli University, where a bazaar was held with food, exhibitions of art and weapons, and children's' game. "It's like being reborn."
Inside a university hallway, people gathered around Ali Najah Krimid, 23, a fighter from Zintan who lost his right leg below the knee after a
rocket-propelled grenade exploded next to him in June. "Hero," one man said.
Remembering the "Battle of Five Points" on Zintan, Mr Krimid said he whispered prayers as he lay bleeding on the ground, but was brought to
Tunisia where they amputated the damaged part of his leg. "I would have given more to fight for my country," he said.
The celebrations did not make it as far as Tripoli Central Hospital, where hallways were covered with pictures of missing Tripolitanians.
There were still more than 700 people, mostly fighters, unaccounted for, according to hospital officials.
Ahmed Salem Ibrahim El Denali watched as a medical assistant clicked through photographs from the front line of dead bodies, many looking ghostly because of the lime to preserve the bodies and roughly patched up with stitches that came too late. Mr El Denali's brother Ibrahim, 29, the father of six, had been missing since June.
"We don't have much hope now," he said.
Doctors said they were happy that they would no longer see lamed and critically wounded men rushed to their operating rooms, but extra shifts were added last night to prepare for the likely onslaught of people injured by falling bullets. Three people died last Thursday alone from bullets that drilled into their head, presumably after being fired in the air by rebels celebrating.
"The blood keeps flowing," he said. "We tried to put out messages to stop firing in the air, but they keep doing it."
Before the revolutions, he had only seen a handful of gunshot wounds in his career. In the last months, there have been thousands.
With additional reports by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters