Libyans poured into the streets to celebrate the news of Muammar Gadhafi's capture and death Thursday as Western leaders called on the country's transitional government to embrace a new era of democracy after decades of despotism in the North African state.
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar Gadhafi has been killed," Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told a news conference in the capital Tripoli. Interim government officials said one of Gadhafi's sons, Muatassim, was also killed in Sirte and that another, Seif al-Islam, was captured wounded with a gunshot to the leg.
The capture and death of Libya's longtime tyrant was arguably the most dramatic event of the so-called Arab Spring, an eventful period of revolt that began in Tunisia towards the end of last year.
Gadhafi, who had ruled with an iron fist since 1969, was arrested in his hometown of Sirte, broadcaster Al Jazeera quoted an official from the National Transitional Council as saying. The fugitive leader was captured and killed while driving in a convoy of cars fleeing from Sirte.
NATO, which has been enforcing a no-fly zone and supporting anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes, was also believed to have played a key role, confirming that its jets had bombed a military "convoy" near Sirte in the morning.
The news ofcame shortly after troops backed by Libya's transitional leadership said they had fully captured Gadhafi's last stronghold.
"The reported death of Muammar Gadhafi marks the end of an era of despotism and repression from which the Libyan people have suffered for too long," EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement out of Brussels before the Libyan leader's death was confirmed.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who until recently portrayed himself as a friend of Gadhafi, said reports that the deposed Libyan leader had been captured signaled the "end to the war" in Libya.
However, Gamal Soltan, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, warned that Libya still faced steep hurdles ahead.
"Building a functioning political system is still a big challenge that Libyans have to face… The war in Libya is no longer between revolutionary forces and the regime, but of revolutionary forces of different tribal and ideological backgrounds," Soltan told DPA. He further noted that the fall of Gadhafi could be an "additional reason for countries in the region to continue reforms."
The news of Gadhafi's capture prompted scenes of jubilation through the streets of Sirte, with televised footage showing anti-Gadhafi fighters celebrating the fall of the port city by shooting in the air as others tore up Gadhafi portraits.
Appearing behind them were heavily damaged buildings in Sirte's Second District, which was the scene of stiff resistance put up by Gadhafi loyalists.
According to Al Jazeera, forces loyal to the National Transitional Council had also arrested Ahmed Ibrahim, who served as head of a governmental research centre in the Gadhafi regime.
Ibrahim was reportedly one of the key commanders who had been leading the fighting against anti-Gadhafi forces in Sirte over the past weeks.
Libya's former Defense Minister, Abu Bakr Younis, was also killed in the fighting, according to Free Libya TV.
The National Transitional Council has been running the affairs of the North African country since Gadhafi was deposed in late August. Last month, it said it would delay the formation of an interim government until all the country had been "liberated."
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