Members of Libya's interim government urged "tolerance and reconciliation" on Sunday as they declared the official liberation of Libya, three days after the death of former leader Moammar Gadhafi in a battle in Sirte.

The ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi began with a reading from the Qur'an and the singing of the national anthem in front of hundreds waving the new Libyan flag.

"We declare to the whole world that we have liberated our beloved country, with its cities, villages, hill-tops, mountains, deserts and skies," said an official who opened the ceremony, which comes after eight months of conflict between rebels and Gadhafi's forces.

National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil took the podium at the end of the event, starting by praying for "the souls of all the martyrs" — those who fought Gadhafi’s forces and who died during the late dictator's reign.

CBC News is there

li-benghazi-crowd-01493547

People celebrate at Saha Kish Square in Benghazi, as the country's interim leaders declared liberation and urged citizens to 'reject hatred.' (Francois Mori/Associated Press)

CBC News's Sasa Petricic and Derek Stoffel are in Libya. Follow them on Twitter @sasapetricic and @DerekStoffelCBC

"We should have forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation. We should reject hatred. This is a necessary matter for the success of the future Libya," Jalil intoned. "Do not use force to take your rights back. All you have to do is to be faithful, patient and tolerant."

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the declaration in a statement released on Sunday.

"After four decades of brutal dictatorship and eight months of deadly conflict, the Libyan people can now celebrate their freedom and the beginning of a new era of promise," Obama said.

He added the U.S. looks forward to working with Libyans to "help advance a stable, democratic transition" as they prepare for free and fair elections.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also added his congratulations Sunday, sending out a statement that the UN is committed to supporting "the Libyan people and their authorities as they work to build this brighter future."

"From this day onward, the Libyan people will be in full charge of their future — a future that their new leaders have declared will be based on justice and national reconciliation."

Sharia law 'basic source' of legislation

Jalil emphasized that Sharia law would be the "basic source" of legislation in the country and that laws that contradict the teachings of Islam would be nullified.

Jalil talked about immediate changes to laws — specifically amending regulations concerning marriage, banking and housing loans, banishing massive interest rates — to conform to Sharia customs. He added that something special would be done for anti-Gadhafi fighters and widows of dead fighters but did not elaborate.

The CBC's Sasa Petricic, reporting from Misrata, said building a democracy after more than four decades of Gadhafi's rule will not be easy.

The Libyans, he said, "have to build a lot of institutions from the ground up and they have to do it in a country which has a lot of political, tribal and regional differences."

In Benghazi, Jalil thanked the businessmen who supported the fighters, funded convoys and "gave money for the sake of God and the Mighty."

Jalil also vowed to set up a national army that would serve the people and protect Libya's borders.

"Today we are one national flesh," said Jalil in the final moments of his speech. "We are all brothers and we love one another."

Jalil has pledged for elections for a new governing body to be held by June of next year.

After that the new body, called the Public National Conference, is to:

  • Appoint a prime minister, an interim government and a constituent authority which will draft a new constitution within 60 days.
  • The constitution will be put to a referendum.
  • Once the constitution is approved, general and presidential elections will be held within six months.

Questions remain concerning Gadhafi's death

Also on Sunday, Libya's chief forensic pathologist says an autopsy has confirmed that Gadhafi was killed by a shot to the head.

Gadhafi's son speaks out

Moammar Gadhafi's son Saadi is still alive and in Niger, where he had escaped to in August after the fall of Tripoli.  He sent out a message via a lawyer on Sunday concerning the deaths of his father and his brother Mo'tassim.

"Saadi Gaddafi is shocked and outraged by the vicious brutality which accompanied the murders of his father and brother. The contradictory statements issued by the NTC excusing  these barbaric executions and the grotesque abuse of the corpses make it clear that no person affiliated with the former regime will receive a fair trial in Libya, nor will they receive  justice for crimes committed against them," lawyer Nick Kaufman  said in an email sent to Reuters.

Dr. Othman al-Zintani says doctors completed the examination on Sunday but he won't disclose more details until he delivered a report to the attorney general.

Bloody images of Gadhafi being taunted and beaten by his captors in his hometown of Sirte have raised questions about whether he was killed in crossfire as suggested by the government or deliberately executed.

International concern about the issue had clouded plans by the transitional government to declare liberation later Sunday after months of bloodshed in a rebellion to oust the hated leader of nearly 42 years.

After the autopsy at a Misrata morgue, Gadhafi's body was returned to the meat locker where it has been on display to crowds of Libyans.

Countdown to elections

The CBC's Derek Stoffel, reporting from Libya, said the biggest celebration will be in Benghazi, where the rebel movement began.

Gadhafi's blood-streaked body has been put on display at a shopping centre in Misrata, as Libyan authorities argued about where to bury the remains.

Men, women and children lined up to view the body, which was laid out on a mattress on the floor of an emptied-out vegetable freezer.

"We are very happy that we got rid of the tyrant who made us tired and made us run all across Libya," said Misrata resident Mohamed Erhoma.

Fighters from Misrata, a city brutally besieged by regime forces during the civil war, seemed to claim ownership of the body, forcing the delay of a planned burial on Friday.

Son's body also on display

The bodies of Gadhafi's son Muatassim and his ex-defence minister Abu Bakr Younis were also put on display on Saturday, although they were covered with blankets so only their faces were visible.

The long-awaited declaration of liberation in Libya came more than two months after revolutionary forces swept into Tripoli and seized control of most of the oil-rich North African nation.

PM hails 'new Libya'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Sunday saying Canadians join with the Libyan people in celebrating the liberation of their country.

"The Libyan people have courageously risen up against decades of tyranny. Canada’s involvement, as sanctioned by the United Nations and led by NATO, has supported their aspirations for the future," Harper said.

"We join Libyans in welcoming the post-Gadhafi era and the transition of the country to a democratic society — one that respects human rights and the rule of law.

"We again commend the work of members of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force and the leadership of Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard. Their efforts have led to the success of NATO’s mission in Libya. NATO has taken a preliminary decision to conclude the mission at the end of October."

The prime minister added Canada will continue to work with transitional leaders "as the new Libya takes shape."

It was stalled by fierce resistance by Gadhafi loyalists in his hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid and pockets in the south.

The public display of the body underscores the message the interim government is trying to drive home to Libyans — that there is no going back.

"Wherever Libya goes, it’s going to have to go in a new direction," Stoffel said.

Acting PM wanted Gadafi alive

At the same time, it’s likely Gadhafi will be buried in a place where he can’t be idolized or used as a symbol by those dissatisfied with the new direction, he said.

Jibril, who has said he plans to resign as acting prime minister 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 BBC in comments to be broadcast Sunday that "at the personal level I wish [Gadhafi]

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 Gadhafi's death.