(TRIPOLI, Libya) — An autopsy confirmed that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi died from a gunshot to the head, the country's chief pathologist said Sunday, just hours before Libya's new leaders were to declare liberation and a formal end to an eight-month civil war to topple the longtime ruler's regime.
The declaration starts the clock on a transition to democracy
that is fraught with uncertainty and could take up to two years.
However, international concern about the circumstances of
Gaddafi's death and indecision over what to do with his remains
overshadowed what was to be a joyful day. Gaddafi's body has been on
public display in a commercial freezer in a shopping center in the port
city of Misratah, which suffered from a bloody siege by regime forces
during the spring. (See pictures of Gaddafi's 40 years in power.)
The 69-year-old was captured wounded, but alive Thursday in his
hometown of Sirt as it became the last city to fall to revolutionary
forces. Bloody images of Gaddafi being taunted and beaten by his captors
have raised questions about whether he was killed in crossfire as
suggested by government officials or deliberately executed.
An autopsy completed Sunday in Misratah showed that Gaddafi was
killed by a shot to the head, said Libya's chief pathologist, Dr. Othman
al-Zintani. He would not disclose further details or elaborate on
Gaddafi's final moments, saying he would first deliver a full report to
the attorney general.
Most Libyans weren't concerned about the circumstances of the
hated leader's death, but rather were relieved the country's ruler of 42
years was gone, clearing the way for a new beginning. "If he (Gaddafi)
was taken to court, this would create more chaos, and would encourage
his supporters," said Salah Zlitni, 31, who owns a pizza parlor in
downtown Tripoli. "Now it's over."
Libya's interim leaders are to formally declare later Sunday that
the country has been liberated. The ceremony is to take place in the
eastern city of Benghazi, the revolution's birthplace. (See pictures of the fight for Gaddafi's hometown.)
The long-awaited declaration starts the clock on Libya's
transition to democracy. The transitional leadership has said it would
declare a new interim government within a month of liberation and
elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months, to be
followed by votes for a parliament and president within a year.
The uprising against the Gaddafi regime erupted in February, as
part of anti-government revolts spreading across the Middle East.
Neighboring Tunisia, which set off the so-called Arab Spring with mass
protests nearly a year ago, has taken the biggest step on the path to
democracy, voting for a new assembly Sunday in its first truly free
elections. Egypt, which has struggled with continued unrest, is next
with parliamentary elections slated for November.
Libya's struggle has been the bloodiest so far in the region.
Mass protests quickly turned into a civil war that killed thousands and
paralyzed the country for the past eight months. Even after
revolutionary forces captured the capital Tripoli in late August, a
fugitive Gaddafi and his supporters fought back fiercely from three
Gaddafi's hometown of Sirt was the last to fall last week, but
Gaddafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, apparently
escaped with some of his supporters. (See pictures of Gaddafi's bizarre clothes.)
Libya's acting prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, who has said he
plans to resign after liberation, said Libya's National Transitional
Council must move quickly to disarm former Libyan rebels and make sure
huge weapons caches are turned over in coming days. The interim
government has not explained in detail how it would tackle the task.
Jibril told the British Broadcasting Corp. in comments to be
broadcast Sunday that "at the personal level I wish (Gaddafi) was alive"
so he could face questions from the Libyan people buckling under
decades of his harsh rule.
Jibril said he would not oppose a full investigation under
international supervision into Gaddafi's death.
See TIME's special report "The Middle East in Revolt."