TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya's interim rulers declared the country liberated on Sunday after an 8-month civil war, launching the oil-rich nation on what is meant to be a two-year transition to democracy. But they laid out plans with an Islamist tone that could rattle their Western backers.
The joyful ceremony formally marking the end of Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year tyranny was also clouded by mounting pressure from the leaders of the NATO campaign that helped secure victory to investigate whether Gadhafi, dragged wounded but alive out of a drainage ditch last week, was then executed by his captors.
The circumstances of Gadhafi's death remain unclear. In separate accounts late Sunday, two Libyan fighters said Gadhafi was hurt after being captured, but was able to stand. One said that when he and others placed Gadhafi in an ambulance, the former Libyan leader had not yet suffered what Libya's chief pathologist said was a fatal gunshot to the head.
Critics said the gruesome spectacle of his blood-streaked body laid out as a trophy for a third day of public viewing in a commercial freezer tests the new leadership's commitment to the rule of law.
Britain's defense secretary, Philip Hammond, said the Libyan revolutionaries' image had been "a little bit stained" by Gadhafi's violent death. Both he and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a full investigation is necessary.
Gadhafi's capture and the fall of his hometown of Sirte, the last loyalist stronghold, set the stage for the long-awaited declaration of liberation, delivered by the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil.
He did not mention the circumstances surrounding Gadhafi's death — mobile phone videos showed the wounded leader being taunted and beaten by a mob after his capture. But he urged his people to avoid hatred.
"You should only embrace honesty, patience, and mercy," Abdul-Jalil told a flag-waving crowd of several thousand at the declaration ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising against Gadhafi.
Abdul-Jalil laid out a vision for a new Libya with an Islamist tint, saying Islamic Sharia law would be the "basic source" of legislation, and that existing laws that contradict the teachings of Islam would be nullified.
He outlined several changes to align with Islamic law, including putting caps on interest for bank loans and lifting restrictions on the number of wives Libyan men can take. The Muslim holy book, the Quran, allows men up to four wives.
Abdul-Jalil thanked those who fought and fell in the war, saying they "are somewhere better than here, with God." Displaying his own piety, he then stepped aside from the podium and knelt to offer a prayer of thanks.
Using Sharia as the main source of legislation is stipulated in the constitution of neighboring Egypt. Still, Egyptian laws remain largely secular as Sharia does not cover all aspects of modern life.
Libya's revolt erupted in February as part of anti-government protests spreading across the Middle East. Islamist groups stand to gain ground in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, which shook off their dictators several months ago. Tunisia has taken the biggest steps so far on the path to democracy, voting Sunday for a new assembly, while Egypt's parliamentary election is set for next month.
Libya's struggle has been the bloodiest so far in the region. Mass protests turned into a civil war that killed thousands and paralyzed the country. Gadhafi loyalists held out for two more months after the fall of the capital of Tripoli in late August. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte fell last week, but Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, apparently escaped with some of his supporters.