Former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was killed Thursday when revolutionary fighters overran his last loyalist stronghold, setting off raucous celebrations of victory in an eight-month war backed by NATO. Gaddafi, 69, a long-entrenched autocrat who was driven from power in Tripoli two months ago, died as the revolutionaries ended loyalist resistance in Sirte, his home town and tribal power base, the new government announced.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told a news conference here. “Moammar Gaddafi has been killed.” (Washington Post)
In Washington, President Obama said Gaddafi’s death “marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.” He told the Libyan people: “You have won your revolution.” (Washington Post)
The dramatic final battle capped a drawn-out fight in which NATO played a key role, bombarding Gaddafi’s forces under an unprecedented U.N. mandate to protect civilians who had risen up against their government. A NATO airstrike appeared to cripple Gaddafi’s convoy early Thursday as it sped out of Sirte, although revolutionary fighters said they were the ones who then moved in and shot the former leader.
Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years until Tripoli fell in August, was the first leader to die in the Arab Spring uprisings. The capture of Sirte – and the death of Gaddafi – clear the way for the appointment of a new interim government that is to steer the country toward new elections, expected in eight or nine months. The new Libyan government will face some of the most daunting challenges of any of the Arab Spring countries. The revolutionaries have pledged to build a democracy in a country that has never had one. Gaddafi had banned opposition parties and a free pass and largely ruled single-handedly, even though he shunned official titles.
The confirmation of Gaddafi’s death came after hours of conflicting reports following the final assault on Sirte, Gaddafi’s last refuge about 280 miles east of Tripoli.
Abdulrahman Busin, the military liaison to Libya’s transitional government, said Gaddafi and a number of his allies were trying to leave Sirte when revolutionaries fired on them. “There was an exchange of fire in which he was injured,” said Busin. The revolutionary forces then captured the former leader, he said. He said Gaddafi was found with a 9 mm pistol and a semiautomatic rifle. Busin said Gaddafi may have been in a part of the convoy hit by a NATO airstrike. But he added: “Our forces went in and did the rest. He wasn’t killed by NATO.” (Washington Post)
It was not immediately clear, however, whether Gaddafi was initially wounded in the airstrike. Video footage broadcast by CNN showed Gaddafi bloodied and upright and apparently alive when he was first caught by revolutionaries. Later images showed his body inert and stripped of his shirt as he lay on the ground.
Busin predicted that the interim leadership would declare the “full liberation” of Libya within 48 hours, which would trigger the naming of a new temporary government and the preparation of elections. The government had received intelligence that Gaddafi was “constantly on the move,” Busin said. “He could have possibly gone to Sirte in the last week or so.” (Washington Post)
After about 90 minutes of fighting early Thursday, revolutionaries overran the last pro-Gaddafi holdouts in Sirte, a coastal city on the Gulf of Sidra, and effectively ending the war in which NATO intervened military to protect a pro-democracy uprising. Gaddafi, who had ruled Libya since coming to power in a 1969 military coup, vanished as the revolutionaries siezed Tripoli in late August, and his whereabouts remained a mystery until Thursday’s fall of Sirte.
In a statement to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, Obama said: “Today we can definitively say that the Gaddafi regime has come to an end. The last major regime strongholds have fallen. The new government is consolidating control over the country. And one of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more.” He added: “This is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.” Obama said Libyans “now have a great responsibility” to build an inclusive, tolerant and and democratic country. He also called on the new Libyan authorities to continue working with the international community to “secure dangerous materials,” such as shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles that have been looted, and to “respect the human rights of all Libyans,” including those who have been detained. For the region, today’s events prove once more than the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” Obama said. (Washington Post)
Obama paid tribute to Americans who have been killed in terrorist operations sponsored by Gaddafi and hailed the service members from the United States and other NATO countries who have enforced a no-fly zone over Libya and carried out airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces. “Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end,” Obama said. He did not take questions after his statement. (Washington Post)
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said it is a day to remember Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s victims. The prime minister said people in Libya now had an even greater chance to build a strong democratic future. UK forces have been part of NATO-led operations targeting Gaddafi regime positions to protect Libyan civilians.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government has said it is ready to re-open the investigation into the Lockerbie bombing, saying the Libyan intelligence agent who was convicted “did not act alone.” (BBC)
In the evening, Libyans gathered outside the country’s embassy in London and on the streets in Manchester – home to the UK’s largest expatriate community – to mark the news. Speaking outside Number 10, Mr. Cameron said: “I think today is a day to remember all of Colonel Gaddafi’s victims, from those who died in connection with the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, to Yvonne Fletcher in a London street and obviously all the victims of IRA terrorism who died through their use of the Libyan Semtex. “We should also remember the many, many Libyans who died at the hands of this brutal dictator and his regime.” The prime minister added: “People in Libya today have an even greater chance, after this news, of building themselves a strong and democratic future. I’m proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about and I pay tribute to the bravery of the Libyans who have helped to liberate their country. We will help them, we will work with them, and that is what I want to say today.” (BBC)
Canada’s combat mission in Libya will end in the next two weeks. Sources tell CBC News that the timing will be discussed with Canada’s allies in the days ahead. In March, parliamentarians voted unanimously in favour of the initial motion in support of a three-month contribution to NATO’s air mission, based in Trapani, Italy. They voted in favour of extending the 650-person mission by another three months. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would continue its mission as long as NATO was there. The mission is UN-approved and aimed to protect civilians on both sides of the conflict.
In a statement, NATO Secretary General Andres Fogh Rasmussen said NATO and its partners successfully implemented the UN mandate to protect the people of Libya. “We will terminate our mission in co-ordination with the United Nations and [Libya’s] National Transitional Council. With the reported fall of Bani Walid and Sirte, that moment has now moved much closer,” Rasmussen said. (CBC)
Canada will be with the Libyans as they build a civil, democratic society, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said last month to open the debate on the latest mission extension. Canada’s role is no less important now than it was in March, he said. “The situation was dire. It was urgent. Benghazi was under the threat of attack, Misrata was under siege,” he said. “It was clear that Gaddafi had lost all legitimacy.” (CBC) MacKay said Canada should be there to help the Libyan people establish civil society and democratic institutions.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris said Canada had done more than its fair share militarily and should refocus its efforts on rebuilding Libya. Harris said Canada should look at what can be done to develop rule of law and provide aid in the country. Canada reopened its embassy in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, last month. The federal government also unfroze about $2.2 billion in assets belonging to Libyan companies and its government.