TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Mounting calls for an investigation into whether Col. Moammar Gadhafi was executed in custody overshadowed plans by Libya's new rulers Sunday to declare liberation and a formal end to the eight-month civil war that toppled the longtime dictator.
An autopsy confirmed that Gadhafi died from a gunshot to the head, Libya's chief pathologist, Dr. Othman al-Zintani, said hours before the liberation declaration was to start the clock on a transition to democracy.
However, the pathologist said he would not disclose further details or elaborate on Gadhafi's final moments, saying he would first deliver a full report to the attorney general. Libya's acting prime minister said he would not oppose an investigation, but he cited an official reporting saying a wounded Gadhafi was killed in crossfire following his capture.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Britain's new defense secretary, Philip Hammond, said a full investigation is necessary.
The Libyan revolutionaries' image had been "a little bit stained" by Gadhafi's death, Mr. Hammond said Sunday, adding that the new government "will want to get to the bottom of it in a way that rebuilds and cleanses that reputation."
"It's certainly not the way we do things," Mr. Hammond told BBC television. "We would have liked to see Col. Gadhafi going on trial to answer for his misdeeds."
Mrs. Clinton told NBC's "Meet the Press" that she backs a proposal that the United Nations investigate Gadhafi's death and that Libya's National Transitional Council look into the circumstances, too.
The 69-year-old Gadhafi was captured wounded but alive Thursday in his hometown of Sirte, the last city to fall to revolutionary forces. Bloody images of Gadhafi being taunted and beaten by his captors have raised questions about whether he was killed in crossfire, as suggested by government officials, or deliberately executed.
Gadhafi's body has been on public display in a commercial freezer in a shopping center in the port city of Misrata, which suffered from a bloody siege by regime forces that instilled a virulent hatred for the dictator in Misrata's residents. People have lined up for days to view the body, which was laid out on a mattress on the freezer floor. The bodies of Gadhafi's son Muatassim and ex-Defense Minister Abu Bakr Younis also were put on display, and people wearing surgical masks have filed past, snapping photos of the bodies.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch, which viewed the bodies, said video footage, photos and other information it obtained "indicate that they might have been executed after being detained."
"Finding out how they died matters," said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. "It will set the tone for whether the new Libya will be ruled by law or by summary violence."
The Syrian-based Al-Rai TV station, which has served as a mouthpiece for the Gadhafi clan, said the dictator's wife, Safiya, also demanded an investigation.
"I am proud of the bravery of my husband, Moammar Gadhafi, the holy warrior, and my sons who confronted the aggression of 40 countries over the past six months," the station quoted the widow as saying in a statement.
Mr. Jibril, the acting Libyan prime minister, said that he would not oppose an inquiry into Gadhafi's death, but that there is "no reason" to doubt the credibility of an official report that the ousted leader died in crossfire.
"Have you seen a video of somebody killing him? I haven't seen any video tape or mobile film that shows somebody is killing Gadhafi," Mr. Jibril told reporters in Jordan, where he was attending an international economic conference.
"What I told the press several times ... (is) that coroner says in the medical report that (Gadhafi) was already wounded, taken out, put in that truck and on the way to the field hospital there was crossfire from both sides," Mr. Jibril said. It's unclear whether the fatal bullet was fired by loyalists or revolutionary forces, he said.
The vast majority of Libyans seemed unconcerned about the circumstances of the hated leader's death but rather were relieved the country's ruler of 42 years was gone, clearing the way for a new beginning.
"If (Gadhafi) was taken to court, this would create more chaos and would encourage his supporters," said Salah Zlitni, 31, who owns a pizza parlor in downtown Tripoli, the capital. "Now it's over."
Libya's interim leaders are to formally declare later Sunday that the country has been liberated. The ceremony is to take place in the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolution's birthplace.
The long-awaited declaration starts the clock on Libya's transition to democracy. The transitional leadership has said it would declare a new interim government within a month of liberation and elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months, to be followed by votes for a parliament and president within a year.
The uprising against the Gadhafi regime erupted in February, as part of anti-government revolts spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. Neighboring Tunisia, which put the so-called Arab Spring in motion with mass protests nearly a year ago, has taken the biggest step on the path to democracy, voting for a new assembly Sunday in its first truly free elections. Egypt, which has struggled with continued unrest, is next with parliamentary elections slated for November.
Libya's struggle has been the bloodiest so far in the region. Mass protests quickly turned into a civil war that killed thousands and paralyzed the country for the past eight months. Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte was the last loyalist stronghold to fall last week, but Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam apparently escaped with some of his supporters.
Mr. Jibril said Libya's National Transitional Council must move quickly to disarm former Libyan rebels and make sure huge weapons caches are turned over in coming days. The interim government has not explained in detail how it would tackle the task.
Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Southern Shuneh, Jordan, and Raphael G. Satter in London contributed to this report.