TUNIS // In a jubilant ceremony that continued into the early hours of yesterday morning, Libya's National Transitional Council handed power over to an assembly elected in the country's first free poll in more than 40 years.
According to the Islamic calendar, the date - the 20th day of the Holy Month of Ramadan - was also the first anniversary of the fall of Tripoli into the hands of rebel forces, an occasion that made the night an especially joyful one for many.
Fireworks filled the sky Wednesday night over Tripoli and people danced in Martyrs' Square, renamed to commemorate the thousands who died in the armed uprising that felled Muammar Qaddafi last year.
International leaders hailed the peaceful transfer of power, held at conference centre in the luxurious Rixos hotel, as a milestone in a region where pro-democracy uprisings that began last year have often fallen into political mire or stalled in violence and chaos.
"Today is another landmark in the transition from brutal dictatorship to political representation," said Alistair Burt, the British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement from London, calling for the swift selection of a leader for the new ruling body.
The new General National Congress is a 200-member body elected last month in a poll that - while not without violent incidents - was hailed by international observers as a remarkable achievement in the still-volatile nation. However, it is as yet hard to say who will lead the Congress or whether one political group will dominate the body, whose main task is to oversee the writing of a constitution. The liberal-leaning National Forces Alliance performed strongly in the election, winning 39 out of 200 seats, and beating more Islamic parties by a considerable margin.
But 120 seats were reserved for independent candidates who are now eagerly being courted by political leaders of all stripes, and no dominant alliance has yet been announced.
Whoever leads the new governing body will face a daunting list of political challenges. Though the recent elections re-invigorated a population that had grown frustrated with the slow pace of post-revolutionary change, the new politicians are likely to disappoint some high expectations.
The militias that led the uprising, backed by international forces, are still dominant in many areas of the country.
There has been progress on incorporating fighters into a nascent army and flawed police force, but it is slow. Many militias still control prisons, and Amnesty International last month estimated that about 4,000 prisoners were still being held outside the control of official security forces.
Fighting in the west and south of the country has also flared intermittently, killing scores of people in recent months and many people in the eastern area, where last year's uprising began in the city of Benghazi, still feel deeply that they are being neglected by the government in Tripoli.