BENGHAZI, Libya, Oct 24, 2011 (AFP) - Libya's new leaders on Sunday declared the country "liberated", three days after ousted despot Moamer Kadhafi was captured and killed, paving the way for the formation of an interim government.
The long-awaited declaration came amid raging controversy over the circumstances of Kadhafi's death after he was taken alive during the fall of his hometown Sirte. Britain said the incident had "stained" the National Transitional Council (NTC).
"Declaration of Liberation. Raise your head high. You are a free Libyan," NTC vice chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga told a massive rally in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising against Kadhafi was launched eight months ago.
Tens of thousands of voices echoed him chanting, "You are a free Libyan."
UN leader Ban Ki-moon called the formal declaration a "historical juncture" after decades of dictatorship and stressed UN support for the NTC's moves to form an interim government and hold elections.
US President Barack Obama hailed the liberation as a "new era of promise" and urged a "national reconciliation process," while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the revolution was the "work of ordinary, brave Libyans."
Benghazi's Kish Square was awash with the green, red and black flags of the revolution that toppled Kadhafi, while the formal declaration raised a deafening roar that reverberated across the Mediterranean city.
Helicopters showered the crowds with sweets.
Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, in his address, stressed that Islamic sharia law would be the main source of the north African nation's legislation.
Interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril said the formation of a new government was expected to take "from a week to a month."
"There are consultations to form a new government and this process would take approximately from one week to one month. It might take longer and or less," he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Jordan.
"Then there will be real hard work to minimise the period to have elections to elect our national congress, which would be the new parliament instead of the NTC which is going to be dissolved."
Under the NTC's roadmap, an interim government is to be formed within one month of the liberation declaration, followed within eight months by elections for a constitutional assembly -- the first democratic vote in Libya since Kadhafi seized power in a coup 42 years ago.
Parliamentary and presidential elections would be held within a year after that.
Fighters were still firing rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons several hours after the liberation announcement despite a ban announced on state television and an appeal by Abdel Jalil.
Interim leader Abdel Jalil earlier told Al-Jazeera that an investigation was being conducted into the circumstances of Kadhafi's killing after several foreign governments and human rights watchdogs posed questions.
"We are dealing with the subject with transparency," Abdel Jalil said.
Disquiet has grown internationally over how Kadhafi met his end after NTC fighters hauled him out of a culvert where he was hiding following NATO air strikes on the convoy in which he had been trying to flee his falling hometown.
Mobile phone videos show him still alive at that point.
Subsequent footage shows a now-bloodied but walking Kadhafi being hustled through a frenzied crowd, before he disappears in the crush and the crackle of gunfire can be heard.
NTC leaders are adamant he was shot in the head when he was caught "in crossfire" between his supporters and new regime fighters soon after his capture.
Jibril said in Jordan that he had no reason to doubt the report of the coroner who on Sunday carried out an autopsy on Kadhafi's body.
"The coroner says in the medical report that he (Kadhafi) has been already wounded, taken out, put in that truck, and on the way to the field hospital there was cross-fire from both sides."
But Doctor Othman el-Zentani, who examined Kadhafi's body, said later only that the dictator had been "killed by bullets" adding: "My autopsy report is not finished."
Zentani said he could not give more details as he had to "wait for the green light from my superior," prosecutor-general Abdelaziz al-Ahsadi.
Jibril added he did not know "whether the bullet that hit him in the head came from his own security brigades or from the revolutionaries."
"They took samples of his DNA, blood, hair, face hair ... every sample that was required," he said.