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Libya begins forming interim government

U.S., Britain urge against reprisals, call for plural democracy

BENGHAZI (AFP) -- Libya‘s new leaders began Monday the tough task of forging an interim government uniting the nation’s disparate political forces after 42 years of Moamer Gadhafi‘s iron-fisted rule, promising a system of Islamic sharia law.

“Today, we begin preparing for a new phase... the phase after the liberation, the phase that we will plan and work hard for the future of Libya,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Transitional Council.

“Let us start work on the adoption of the constitution,” he said late on Sunday as he declared Libya’s “liberation” from Gadhafi‘s rule at a colorful ceremony attended by tens of thousands in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising against the despot was launched eight months ago.

The long-awaited declaration came amid raging controversy over the circumstances of Gadhafi’s death after he was taken alive during the fall of his hometown Sirte on Thursday. Britain said the incident had “stained” the NTC.

“Declaration of liberation. Raise your head high. You are a free Libyan,” Ghoga told the jubilant crowd.

Tens of thousands of voices echoed him chanting, “You are a free Libyan.”

Under the NTC‘s roadmap, an interim government is to be formed within a month and elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new basic law held within eight months -- the first democratic vote since Gadhafi came to power in a coup 42 years ago.

Parliamentary and presidential elections would be held within a year after that -- or within 20 months of Sunday’s declaration.

NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil insisted that sharia law will prevail in liberated Libya.

“As an Islamic country, we adopted sharia as the principal law,” Abdel Jalil told the swarming crowds in Benghazi.

“Any law that violates sharia is null and void legally,” he said.

Abdel Jalil thanked NATO and regional allies for their roles in toppling Gadhafi, and paid special tribute to all those who lost their lives in the battle for Libya‘s freedom.

“I call on everyone to remove hatred from their hearts... it is essential to build Libya,” he added.

The rally was attended by the ambassadors of France and the United States, while several countries such as Britain, Egypt, Sweden and Tunisia were also represented by diplomats. A U.N. representative was likewise present.

Interim Prime Minister Mahmud Jibril said the formation of a new government was expected to take “from one week to one month.”

“There are consultations to form a new government and this process would take approximately from one week to one month. It might take longer and or less,” he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.

“Then there will be real hard work to minimise the period to have elections to elect our national congress, which would be the new parliament instead of the NTC which is going to be dissolved.”

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the liberation as a “new era of promise” and urged a “national reconciliation process,” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the revolution was the “work of ordinary, brave Libyans.”

Abdel Jalil earlier told Al-Jazeera that an investigation was being conducted into the circumstances of Gadhafi’s killing after several foreign governments and human rights watchdogs posed questions.

“We are dealing with the subject with transparency,” Abdel Jalil said.

Disquiet has grown internationally over how Gadhafi met his end after NTC fighters hauled him out of a culvert where he was hiding following NATO air strikes on the convoy in which he had been trying to flee his falling hometown.

Mobile phone videos show him still alive at that point.

Subsequent footage shows a now-bloodied but walking Gadhafi being hustled through a frenzied crowd, before he disappears in the crush and the crackle of gunfire can be heard.

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.

Jibril said in Jordan that the autopsy report showed that Gadhafi was killed in “cross-fire from both sides.”

But Doctor Othman el-Zentani, who examined Gadhafi‘s body, said later only that the dictator had been “killed by bullets” adding: “My autopsy report is not finished.”

Zentani said he could not give more details as he had to “wait for the green light from my superior,” prosecutor-general Abdelaziz al-Ahsadi.

Jibril added he did not know “whether the bullet that hit him in the head came from his own security brigades or from the revolutionaries.”

Gadhafi’s body has been stored in a vegetable market freezer in the eastern city of Misrata, drawing large crowds wanting to view and take pictures of the remains of the despot who ruled Libya with an iron fist.

In London, Britain‘s new Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said the reputation of Libya’s new leaders had been “stained” by Gadhafi‘s killing.

“The fledgling Libyan government will understand that its reputation in the international community is a little bit stained by what happened,” he told the BBC.