Libya’s former rebel leaders basked in praise Tuesday at the United Nations while fugitive strongman Moamer Kadhafi issued an audio message calling the new government a “charade.”
With the new Libyan flag flying at the UN headquarters, interim government leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil thanked all nations who aided with the “success of the Libyan revolution,” which he revealed had left at least 25,000 dead.
US President Barack Obama hailed a “new chapter” for Libya as the victorious rebels’ red, black and green flag was hoisted at the United Nations ahead of the annual General Assembly.
But Obama warned Kadhafi loyalists still putting up resistance in their remaining bastions to lay down their arms, promising that NATO-led air strikes would continue as long as the fighters remained a threat.
“Today, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation,” the US president told world leaders at a UN meeting on Libya being held on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
“After four decades of darkness, they can walk the streets, free from a tyrant,” he told the meeting.
Credit for the “liberation of Libya, belongs to the people of Libya,” he insisted, but stressed the international community was not pulling out yet.
“So long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue. And those still holding out must understand the old regime is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new Libya,” the US commander-in-chief said.
Obama met Jalil, Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) chief, for the first time Tuesday and the US leader said the focus should also now turn to a democratic transition after 42 years of dictatorship, including “free and fair elections.”
The United Nations and world leaders all promised to help the new government with its campaign to take remaining territory held by Kadhafi fighters and to rebuild the country and organize elections.
“For the past seven months, you have fought courageously for your fundamental rights and freedoms,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Jalil as he launched the summit.
Amid new battles for towns still in the hands of Kadhafi loyalists, Ban said “the first priority must be peace and security.”
Jalil praised the NATO-led coalition for its assistance in the uprising in which he said some 25,000 people had died, and he promised fair trials for captured members of the ousted regime.
The new Libyan leader vowed that the new government would be a “vibrant” democracy that respects regional peace and security.
The NTC chairman said many Kadhafi regime members had been detained and some had been freed again. Many would face justice but Jalil insisted all would get a “fair trial.”
Jalil told Obama that Kadhafi was still in the country, according to a US official.
Derek Chollet, senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council, also said it was important for Libyans to track down Kadhafi in order to move on from his brutal rule.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a plea for support in all of the Arab countries where people have stood up against strongarm leaders.
“When we saw the people taking to the Arab streets to call for liberty and democracy we took some time to respond as we were astonished at what we were seeing” in Tunisia, Egypt and then Libya, Sarkozy said.
He said the Arab demonstrations had given the international community a “responsibility to take action.”
Sarkozy indicated that the action in Libya and UN action in Ivory Coast this year should be a warning to other strongarm leaders.
“Henceforth the international community is not just going to speak, but will take action and where necessary will take action with weapons in their hands in the service of democracy,” he told the summit.
Meanwhile, Kadhafi told his remaining loyalists in Libya that the new regime was only temporary.
“What is happening in Libya is a charade which can only take place thanks to the (NATO-led) air raids, which will not last forever,” he said in the message aired by Syria-based Arrai television.
“Do not rejoice and don’t believe that one regime has been overthrown and another imposed with the help of air and maritime strikes,” Kadhafi added.
The recording was the first by Kadhafi since September 8, when he denied reports he had fled to Algeria or Niger.
It was released after the new regime’s forces said they captured the airport and a garrison in his southern redoubt of Sabha, and fighting raged in two of his northern strongholds.
The NTC fighters pushed on to within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the Kadhafi stronghold of Sirte on Tuesday, establishing a new frontline where intense artillery and heavy machine-gun exchanges erupted, an AFP correspondent reported.
The African Union, which had long held out against according Libya’s seat to the NTC, on Tuesday finally announced it was recognizing the new leadership after weeks of foot-dragging that had caused divisions on the continent.