Libya’s new leaders pledged “moderate” Islamic rule and affirmed their commitment to human rights on Tuesday, even as their fighters were accused of committing possible war crimes.
A defiant Moamer Kadhafi, meanwhile, vowed from hiding to battle on until victory as his forces launched surprise fightbacks on three fronts.
Interim Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil received a hero’s welcome when he made a public speech in Tripoli’s main square late on Monday.
Thousands celebrated last month’s fall of the Kadhafi regime in Martyrs’ Square, two days after Abdel Jalil, the head of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), arrived in Tripoli from Benghazi in the east.
Moderate Islam would be the main source of legislation in post-Kadhafi Libya, he told the crowd.
“We will not accept any extremist ideology, on the right or the left. We are a Muslim people, for a moderate Islam, and we will stay on this road,” he said.
Abdel Jalil’s comments came as Amnesty International released a new report on Tuesday in which it accused Kadhafi’s regime of crimes against humanity but also said NTC fighters had committed possible war crimes.
While the London-based rights group’s report consisted mainly of damning examples of violations by Kadhafi’s regime, it said the NTC appeared unwilling to hold its fighters accountable for human rights violations.
Amnesty said in the first days of the uprising against Kadhafi’s rule groups of protesters killed a number of captured soldiers and suspected mercenaries.
“Some were beaten to death, at least three were hanged, and others were shot dead after they had been captured or had surrendered, said the report, “The Battle for Libya — Killings, Disappearances and Torture.”
“The NTC is facing a difficult task of reigning in opposition fighters and vigilante groups responsible for serious human rights abuses, including possible war crimes but has shown unwillingness to hold them accountable,” the report said.
But Amnesty acknowledged that the war crimes allegedly committed by the now governing opposition were of a “smaller scale” than those carried out by Kadhafi’s regime, which it says may be responsible for crimes against humanity.
The NTC responded by acknowledging “there are a small number of incidents involving those opposed to Kadhafi.”
In a statement issued in its eastern bastion Benghazi, the council’s executive committee said it “strongly condemns any abuses perpetrated by either side,” and promised to investigate any incidents brought to its attention.
“The NTC is firmly committed to human rights and the rule of law, both international and local,” it said.
Meanwhile, Kadhafi, in a statement read out on Syria-based Arrai Oruba television, vowed to defeat those behind the “coup” that ousted him.
“It is not possible to give Libya to the colonialists again,” the one-time strongman said. “All that remains for us is the struggle until victory and the defeat of the coup.”
On the battlefield, Kadhafi’s remaining forces launched ferocious counterattacks Monday on the oil refinery town of Ras Lanuf in the east, on the road towards Kadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, and at Bani Walid southeast of the capital Tripoli.
Striking deep behind enemy lines, Kadhafi fighters killed at least 17 NTC soldiers at Ras Lanuf, an NTC military spokesman told AFP, updating an earlier toll.
Southeast of Tripoli, civilians poured out of the desert town of Bani Walid after intense fighting on Sunday between Kadhafi loyalists and troops of the new regime who have encircled it.
Those fleeing said many remained trapped inside the oasis town, 180 kilometres (110 miles) from Tripoli, for want of fuel for their vehicles.
“Families are scared to death by this war,” said Mohammed Suleiman as he passed through a checkpoint with 10 relatives crammed into the back of his white BMW.
West of Sirte, an NTC commander said his forces had met strong resistance as they advanced to a place called “Checkpoint 50” — 50 kilometres from the town.
“We came under fire from a lot of Grads (rockets),” said field commander Umran al-Awaib.
In its latest operational update Tuesday, NATO said its warplanes had hit a radar system, eight surface to air missile systems, five surface to air missile trailers, an armed vehicle and two air defence command vehicles.
The unexpected counter-offensive by Kadhafi loyalists came despite the flight to neighbouring Niger of 32 members of his inner circle during the past 10 days.
“A total of 32 people are now here, including one of (Kadhafi’s) sons, Saadi, as well as three generals,” Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini said, adding they had been taken in for “humanitarian reasons.”
The latest arrivals included Saadi, the third of Kadhafi’s seven sons and reputed to be a playboy; and eight of the fallen despot’s other close associates, Rafini added.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Niger was preparing to “detain” Saadi.
China said Tuesday the NTC will uphold deals with Beijing made during Kadhafi’s rule, a day after recognising the NTC as Libya’s government.