Foreign governments from Britain to China hailed a new day for Libya following Moammar Gadhafi’s death and called on the new government to move swiftly to rebuild a shattered economy and restore order amid chaotic celebrations.
Amid the overwhelmingly positive response, there were concerns too about further political violence or a veering off into extremism in the wake of Gadhafi’s nearly 42-year regime. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the international community needed to work with the governing transitional council to ensure Libya “does not become another Iran.”
“The task of nation-building, the task of building Libya’s democratic institutions, will be difficult, it will be complex, it will be hard, and there will be setbacks,” said Rudd during a visit to Tokyo.
China, which initially refused to support the rebels or to criticize Gadhafi, moved to embrace the new government — updating its references to Gadhafi in state media from the “strongman” who defied the West to the “madman” whose time ran out.
“A new page has been turned in the history of Libya,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
“We hope Libya will rapidly embark on an inclusive political process, maintain ethnic solidarity and national unity, swiftly establish social stability, begin economic reconstruction, and allow the people to live in peace and happiness,” Jiang said.
Rudd, whose country supported the rebellion from its earliest days, said Gadhafi’s death Thursday, two months after he was driven from power and into hiding, was “historic.”
Yet he also said that Iran’s euphoria at deposing the Shah over 30 years ago morphed into severe repression, and warned Libya’s supporters needed to stay attentive and continue to promote openness.
“My point is this: Right now there will be many forces at work within Libyan politics and the responsibility of the international community is to support democratic pluralist forces building a new inclusive Libyan state, a new inclusive Libyan democratic state,” Rudd said.
In Europe, leaders sounded an optimistic note.
“Finally the way is free for a political rebirth for peace,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday, pronouncing herself “relieved and very happy” at the news of Gadhafi’s death.
Britain and France, the powers that played a leading role in the military campaign that sealed Gadhafi’s fate, said they hoped that his death would open a more democratic chapter in Libya’s history, while South Africa’s government urged an “all-inclusive political process that will culminate in the holding of the first ever democratic elections.”
The African Union immediately lifted Libya’s suspension after Gadhafi’s death and said the interim leadership, the National Transitional Council, could occupy the country’s seat, citing Libya’s “exceptional circumstance.”
The Vatican described the dictator’s death as the end to a “long and tragic” fight to crush an oppressive regime. And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke for many when he said that “this is only the end of the beginning.”
“The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges,” he said. “This a time for healing and rebuilding, for generosity of spirit, not for revenge.”
Libyan exiles and some of the many victims Gadhafi accumulated over four decades in power also celebrated, although some too expressed fears over the road ahead.
“I was crying, I was shouting, I was smiling,” said Najwa Creui, a 40-year-old teacher who stomped a sheet bearing the fallen leader’s image outside the Libyan Embassy in London. “It’s the day Libyans have been waiting for as long as I have been alive.”
“I’m just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate,” said Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter was killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, an atrocity allegedly carried out at Gadhafi’s behest.
But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ally and friend of Gadhafi, called his death deplorable.
“They murdered him,” Chavez told reporters, adding that “we will remember (Gadhafi) all our lives as a great fighter, as a revolutionary and as a martyr.”
In China, sympathy for Gadhafi remained on Internet forums, including the popular Weibo microblogging site where ordinary Chinese feel freer to express personal views.
“Deeply mourn Libya’s former leader Gadhafi, friend of the Chinese people. He died a heroic death,” read one comment, signed “Yuan Jun.”
“Heroic warrior against Western imperialism, slain by the Western bullets wielded by his own people,” read another on the Sohu site, signed simply “Shanghai Internet user.”
There was also concern about the confusion over how Gadhafi died, with some leaders and human rights groups saying he should have been taken alive and calling for an investigation. Libyan revolutionaries had pledged to bring Gadhafi to court to face atrocity charges, and Arab satellite TV stations have since broadcast a video showing him taken alive by his opponents.
However, some suggested that, on balance, Gadhafi’s death might have worked to greater effect than his capture.
Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, said that while the revolutionaries may have wanted him alive, “a trial would have been an opportunity for him to grandstand. So in some ways, his death is more cathartic.”