Disagreement Errupts Over Qadhafi's Burial

Citizens stand in line to see the body of the deceased dictator.

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MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's body lay in an old meat store on Friday as arguments over a burial, and his killing after being captured, dogged efforts by Libya's new leaders to make a formal start on a new era of democracy. [Read: Rebel victory in Libya is a vindication for Obama.]

With a bullet wound visible through the familiar curly hair, the corpse seen by Reuters in Misrata bore other marks of the violent end to a violent life, still being broadcast to the world a day later on looping snatches of gory cellphone video.

The interim prime minister offered a tale of "crossfire" to explain the fallen strongman's death after he was dragged, still alive, from a storm drain in his home town of Sirte. But seeing him being beaten, while demanding legal rights, to the sound of gunfire, many assume he was simply summarily shot.

Gaddafi's wife, who found refuge in neighboring Algeria while her husband and several sons kept their word to fight to the death, was reported to have demanded an inquiry from the United Nations. The U.N. human rights arm said one was merited. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East uprisings.]

Controversy over the final moments of a man who once held the world in thrall with a mixture of eccentricity and thuggery raised questions about the ability of Libya's National Transitional Council to control the men with guns, and disquiet among Western allies about respect for human rights among those who claimed to be fighting for just those ideals.

The body appeared to be the latest object of wrangling among the factions of fighters who overthrew him -- along with control of weapons, of ministries and of Libya's oil wealth.

Libyans, and the Western allies who backed the revolt that ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule two months ago, have indicated their impatience to begin what the United States declared was a democratic "new era." NATO was expected to agree on Friday to start winding down its seven-month air campaign over Libya. [Read Susan Milligan: Harsh Realities Remain for Post-Qadhafi Libya.]

But regional and other rivalries have been holding up the disposal of the corpse of Gaddafi, who was seized by fighters on Thursday, and a formal declaration of Libya's "liberation."

BURIAL DISPUTE

"They are not agreeing on the place of burial. Under Islam he should have been buried quickly but they have to reach an agreement whether he is to be buried in Misrata, Sirte, or somewhere else," one senior NTC official told Reuters.

Others said talks were under way with members of Gaddafi's tribe to dispose of him in secret, avoiding creating a shrine.

In Misrata, a local commander, Addul-Salam Eleiwa, showed off the body, torso bare, on a mattress inside a metal-lined cold-store by a market. He said: "He will get his rights, like any Muslim. His body will be washed and treated with dignity. I expect he will be buried in a Muslim cemetery within 24 hours."

But amid the rumor and counter-rumor swirling between Sirte, Gaddafi's last bastion, and Misrata, whose siege at his hands made it a symbol of resistance, nothing was certain.

Interim oil minister Ali Tarhouni said he urged colleagues to hold off burying Gaddafi for several days. Dozens of people, many with cellphone cameras, filed in to see that he was dead.

"There's something in our hearts we want to get out," said Abdullah al-Suweisi, 30, as he waited. "It is the injustice of 40 years. There is hatred inside. We want to see him."

In a small triumph for those who were inspired by Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere to launch the rebellion in February in Benghazi, the eastern city was chosen as the venue for NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil to announce that the whole country was liberated. But the planned announcement was delayed from Saturday to Sunday.

That will set a clock ticking on a tentative timetable for a transitional government and for drafting a constitution, under which full elections would, Libyans hope, take place within a year or two.

There has been tension between the easterners and leaders from Misrata, Tripoli and other western cities, who take credit for overrunning the capital in August and complain they are under-represented in an interim government which has yet to move fully to Tripoli. Under the post-liberation plan, that is supposed to happen within weeks, though some in Benghazi, home to much of the oil industry, are keen to decentralize power.