TRIPOLI, Libya – The chief of Libya’s former rebels arrived in Tripoli on Saturday, greeted by a boisterous red carpet ceremony meant to show he’s taking charge of the interim government replacing the ousted regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
But even as Libya’s new leaders tried to consolidate control over the vast country, Gadhafi loyalists pushed back hard against an assault on the town of Bani Walid, one of Gadhafi’s remaining strongholds, in a sign that the battle is far from over.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the anti-Gadhafi forces’ National Transitional Council, landed Saturday at an air force base on the outskirts of Tripoli. A faded red carpet was rolled out, and hundreds of fighters and officials in suits rushed toward the plane as he walked down the steps. Some flashed victory signs or shouted “God is great.”
Abdul-Jalil was mobbed by the crowd as he tried to make his way to the air force building.
After meeting with local leaders inside, Abdul-Jalil called for unity among Libyans to finish the fight against Gadhafi loyalists. He also called for forgiveness to allow Libyans to rebuild the country.
“This is not the time for retribution. This is not the time for taking matters into your own hands. Many rights have been lost and many tragedies have occurred,” he said. “We have to realize that Moammar Gadhafi is not done yet and we must direct all our means to liberate the rest of the cities.”
Abdul-Jalil’s arrival was meant to show that the former rebels are getting ready to establish their government in the capital. Until now, most leaders of the anti-Gadhafi movement had been based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
“It’s a day that shows Libya is finally in the hands of its people,” said Abdullah Gzema, an NTC member from the coastal city of Zawiya. “We know we have nothing ahead of us but challenges. The challenge now is to organize the state and that will be harder than the military campaign.”
Revolutionary forces entered Tripoli on Aug. 21, six months after the uprising against Gadhafi began.
The fall of Tripoli effectively sealed the fate of Gadhafi’s regime, but Abdul-Jalil stayed away from the capital until Saturday. His prolonged absence had raised questions about the former rebels’ ability to take charge. Officials close to Abdul-Jalil cited security concerns as one of the reasons.