LONDON — European leaders hailed it as a victory, Libyan exiles celebrated in the streets and the mother of one of Moammar Gadhafi’s many victims said she was treating herself to an expensive bottle of champagne.
But jubilation over the demise of Libya’s long-serving ruler is being tempered by concerns over the circumstances of his death — and lingering doubts about Libya’s future.
There were chants and tears of joy outside the Libyan Embassy in London, where one demonstrator stomped a sheet bearing the fallen leader’s image.
“I was crying, I was shouting, I was smiling,” said Najwa Creui, a 40-year-old teacher who has lived in Britain for the past 16 years. “It’s the day Libyans have been waiting for as long as I have been alive.”
But 37-year-old Amani Deghayes said that while she shared in the celebration, the anarchic bloodshed that followed the toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein left her fearing for “what happens next.”
“I hope there will be real democracy, not another crazy regime,” she said.
In Europe, leaders sounded an optimistic note.
“Finally the way is free for a political rebirth for peace,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday, pronouncing herself “relieved and very happy” at the news.
Britain and France, the powers that played a leading role in the military campaign that sealed Gadhafi’s fate, said they hoped that his death would open a new — and more democratic — chapter in Libya’s history.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Gadhafi’s death a milestone in the Libyan people’s battle “to free themselves from the dictatorial and violent regime that was imposed on them for more than 40 years,” a message echoed by British leader David Cameron and other NATO allies.
The Vatican, which said it now considers Libya’s interim government the legitimate rulers of the country, described Gadhafi’s death as the end to a “long and tragic” fight to crush an oppressive regime. And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke for many when he said that “this is only the end of the beginning.”
“The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges,” he said. “This a time for healing and rebuilding, for generosity of spirit, not for revenge.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ally and friend of Gadhafi, called his death deplorable.
“They murdered him,” Chavez was quoted as saying by the Caracas-based television network Telesur, calling it “one more attack on life.”
“We will remember [him] all our lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr,” Chavez said during a visit to the Venezuelan town of La Grita, according to a statement from Telesur.
“That history in Libya is just beginning now,” Chavez said. “The Yankee empire … will not be able to dominate this world.”
Gadhafi’s victims — he accumulated many over his four decades in power — had mixed reactions.
“I’m just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate,” said Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter was blown out of the sky in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, an atrocity allegedly carried out at Gadhafi’s behest.
Zdravko Georgiev, one of several medics detained by Libyan authorities and tortured into confessing to an improbable plot to infect hundreds of children with HIV, said the dictator’s death didn’t cheer him.
“Why should I be satisfied?” he said. “No one will give me back the years spent in prison or undo the tortures sustained.”
There was also concern about the confusion over how Gadhafi died. Libyan revolutionaries had pledged to bring Gadhafi to court to face atrocity charges, and Arab satellite TV stations have since broadcast a video showing Moammar Gadhafi taken alive by his opponents.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said his country would have rather Gadhafi been “captured alive so that he could be brought to justice.”
The sentiment was echoed by London-based rights group Amnesty International, which said it was essential to conduct “a full, independent and impartial inquiry to establish the circumstances of Col. Gadhafi’s death.”
But some suggested that, on balance, Gadhafi’s death might have worked to greater effect than his capture.
Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, said that while the revolutionaries may have wanted him alive, “a trial would have been an opportunity for him to grandstand. So in some ways, his death is more cathartic.”
Britain’s foreign secretary acknowledged concerns over Gadhafi’s death in a series of broadcast interviews.
“We do not approve of extra-judicial killings,” William Hague told Sky News television, “but we are not going to mourn him.”
AP reporters across the world contributed to this report.