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Originally published Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Libya's new path heads toward Islamic law

The leader of Libya's transitional government vowed the new government would be based on Islamic tenets. Meanwhile, former University of Washington economics teacher Ali Tarhouni, in charge of Libya's oil and finance departments, may be in line to replace interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril.

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BENGHAZI, Libya — Less than a week after dictator Moammar Gadhafi was killed, the leader of Libya's transitional government declared to thousands of revelers in a crowded square Sunday that Libya's revolution had ended, setting the country on the path to elections, and he vowed the new government would be based on Islamic tenets.

Meanwhile, it appeared that former University of Washington economics teacher Ali Tarhouni, who has been in charge of the oil and finance departments, may be in line to replace interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who was at a conference in Jordan and had said he will step down from his leadership position, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Jibril said he had asked Tarhouni to manage affairs until a new government is formed, but declined to say whether he had resigned.

After decades of exile in the U.S. Tarhouni, 60, returned to Libya in the early weeks of the uprising.

At the celebration in Benghazi, Tarhouni sat next to National Transitional Council interim chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil on the ceremonial dais, but the absence of an announcement in Benghazi about his appointment raised questions about whether Tarhouni has the support of rival domestic factions.

Tensions have arisen on the Transitional National Council between Islamists and secularists and between former Gadhafi officials and his longtime foes.

Abdul-Jalil, who himself was a justice minister under Gadhafi, exhorted his countrymen to pursue "forgiveness, patience and the truth."

One of the strongest factions vying for political power are the religious political and military leaders who support the Libyan chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. These groups led many of the strongest militias involved in the revolutions.

As a nod to their growing power, Abdul-Jalil focused a significant part of his speech on religion. He said that the new Libyan legal codes will be based on Islamic law, known as Shariah, and promised to ban interest on housing loans. The Islamic banking system prohibits charging interest, which is regarded as usury.

Senior Libyan officials said he also envisioned changing marriage laws to make it easier for men to take a second wife

"A lot of young ladies lost their husbands in the battle" and want to find new partners, said Farage Sayeh, the minister of capacity-building in the temporary Cabinet that stepped down Sunday. Under current Libyan law, a man seeking a second wife must receive his first wife's permission and appear before a judge.

The transitional leaders have repeatedly stressed the nation's "moderate" version of Islam, and dismissed as far-fetched the notion of an Iran-style theocracy emerging in Libya. Still, some Western leaders who backed the rebellion have voiced concern about the possible rise of fundamentalist rule in Libya.

Libya is a conservative Muslim society, in which alcohol is banned and many women wear headscarves. Gadhafi's government tolerated little dissent and often repressed Islamists. But Libya's Islamist groups appear to have emerged as the best organized among post-revolution political groups.

Libyans will vote in June for a 200-member body that will rewrite the constitution, putting the country on track for full elections for a new chief executive and parliament.

Abdul-Jalil is considered religious but not an extremist. His comments may have been intended to win over support from Islamists within the military command, as well as score points with ordinary Libyans fed up with high interest rates on loans.

Tens of thousands of Libyans poured into Keish square in Benghazi, the eastern city that was the cradle of the revolution, to celebrate the defeat of Gadhafi in a U.S.-backed eight-month struggle.

"Lift your head; you are a proud Libyan," chanted the crowd in Benghazi, as balloons in the colors of the new flag — red, black and green — floated overhead. Some people waved the flags of France and the United States, which were part of an alliance that helped the anti-Gadhafi forces in their struggle.

Abdul-Jalil, stooping humbly to shake hands in the crowd and embracing the elderly relative of a fallen rebel, made clear that personality would have nothing to do with the new order here.

Two middle-aged women, beaming, expressed astonishment as they stood together in what is now known as Victory Square.

"This is the greatest day of our lives," said one of them, Mneeba Gargoum. "I've never felt this way before for our country," she said. Her friend, Hawa el-Hawaz, chimed in: "We didn't have hope before this day. Without Gadhafi, Libya is free. We feel like we are in a real country now."

President Obama hailed the declaration of freedom in Libya on Sunday, saying "a new era of promise" is under way in the African nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she supported calls for an investigation into Gadhafi's death as part of Libya's transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Gadhafi was captured wounded but alive in his hometown of Sirte. 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 was executed.

The former leader's decomposing body has remained on display in a vegetable cold-storage locker, a macabre spectacle that has unnerved some observers — though many Libyans have called it cathartic.

Clinton told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview aired Sunday that she backs a proposal for the United Nations to investigate Gadhafi's death and for Libya's Transitional National Council to look into the circumstances.

But she pointed to one of the Gadhafi era's most notorious legacies — the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Clinton called on Libya to imprison Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, the former Libyan agent sentenced to life imprisonment in the attack, in which 270 people, mostly Americans, died.

In 2009, Scottish authorities freed Megrahi, said to have prostate cancer, on grounds of compassion. He lives with his family in Tripoli and is said to be near death.

Compiled from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press, with information from Seattle Times archives.

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