BENGHAZI, Sep 21 – Libya’s first formal government since Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster will be named within 10 days, officials said on Tuesday, as world powers hailed the African state’s fledgling leadership in New York.
With the new Libyan flag flying at the United Nations headquarters, interim government leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil thanked all countries who had helped the “success of the Libyan revolution,” which he said cost at least 25,000 lives.
US President Barack Obama, meeting Jalil for the first time, was among those who feted the country’s rulers in the wake of a more than six-month armed struggle to overthrow Gaddafi fighters, some of whom continue to resist.
“Today, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation,” Obama said, warning Gaddafi loyalists to lay down their arms, and promising that NATO-led air strikes would continue until they yield.
At a special summit, the United Nations and world leaders promised to help the new government with its campaign to take the remaining territory held by Gaddafi fighters and to move towards democracy and free elections.
“After four decades of darkness, they can walk the streets, free from a tyrant,” Obama said, noting that “so long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue.”
Libya’s interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril unveiled the timeline for a new administration.
“I expect the government to be announced within a week, 10 days maximum from now,” said the number two official in the National Transitional Council, the rebel body whose forces ousted Gaddafi.
“Most of the work has been done. It is a question of the number of ministries and the location of the ministries,” noting that all could all be in the capital, Tripoli, but it was possible they could be split.
The transitional council was based in Benghazi in the east of the country, whereas Tripoli is in the west.
“For a country which was absent from any democratic process for 42 years from any institutions, from any democratic culture, what’s taking place is natural,” Jibril said, alluding to the war-torn country’s new structure.
But Gaddafi, who remains on the run, 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,” he added.
The recording was the first by Gaddafi since September 8, when he denied reports he had fled to Algeria or Niger.
It was released after the new leadership’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 kilometres (15 miles) of the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte on Tuesday, establishing a new frontline where intense artillery and heavy machine-gun exchanges erupted, an AFP correspondent said.
At least three NTC fighters, all in their thirties, were killed in Sirte and 17 others were wounded, Misrata’s general hospital, which centralises casualty figures, reported.
Sporadic rocket fire and mortar exchanges continued to shake Sirte, witnesses said, although the new leadership’s forces have reduced their use of heavy artillery since Sunday in a bid to give families a chance to flee.
Meanwhile in New York, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a plea for support in all of the Arab countries whose populations have stood up against strong-arm 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.”
The African Union, which had long held out against according Libya’s seat to the NTC, on Tuesday finally announced it was recognising the new leadership after weeks of foot-dragging that had caused divisions on the continent.