Obama hails 'end of painful chapter' as Sarkozy speaks of 'milestone'


WESTERN REACTION:“YOU HAVE won your revolution,” US president Barack Obama told the people of Libya in a brief statement from the White House rose garden yesterday.

“Today, we can definitively say that the Gadafy regime has come to an end. The last major regime strongholds have fallen. The new government is consolidating its control over the country and one of the world’s longest-serving dictators is no more.”

No one in the Obama administration would confirm Col Muammar Gadafy’s death until the US president put an end to any lingering doubts at 7pm Irish time.

The US leader, whose UN ambassador pushed through the UN Security Council resolution that led to western intervention in Libya last March, said Gadafy’s death marked “the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny . . . This is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.”

At a moment when he is embroiled in domestic political problems, Mr Obama used Gadafy’s death to reassert his foreign policy and defence credentials. “This comes at a time when we see the strength of American leadership across the world,” he said.

“We have taken out al-Qaeda leaders and we have put them on the path to defeat. We are winding down the war in Iraq and have begun a transition in Afghanistan.”

It was also a vindication of Mr Obama’s much criticised multilateralism and a retort to Republican presidential candidates who say the US must “walk tall”.

“Working in Libya with friends and allies, we have demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century,” the president said.

With Gadafy’s death, attention inevitably shifts to Syria, where Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces have killed thousands of citizens. “Today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” Mr Obama said.

“Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights. Youths are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship. Those leaders who try to deny their human dignity will not succeed.”

Speaking at a university where he was promoting Mr Obama’s jobs Bill, US vice-president Joe Biden earlier quoted William Butler Yeats in explaining how the overthrow of Gadafy was a “prescription” for the future.

Since the end of the cold war, Mr Biden said, “we have emerging nations in chaos . . . So in this ‘terrible beauty’, this ‘all has changed’ world, what happened? Nato got it right.”

In a subtle dig at the Bush administration’s profligate waste of blood and treasure in Iraq, Mr Biden noted that “America spent $2 billion [€1.45 billion] total and didn’t lose a single life” in Libya.

The leaders of Britain and France, whose forces have carried out most of the bombing missions in Libya since Mr Obama decided to “lead from behind”, also spoke of Libya’s bright future.

British prime minister David Cameron said it was “a day to remember all of Col Gadafy’s victims, from those who died in connection with the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, to [police constable] Yvonne Fletcher in a London street, and obviously all the victims of IRA terrorism who died through their use of Libyan Semtex”.

Mr Cameron said he was “proud of the role that Britain has played in helping” the Libyan people to overthrow their dictator.

French foreign minister Alain Juppé said: “France is proud to have helped the Libyan people to recover their freedom.”

French president Nicolas Sarkozy called Gadafy’s death “a milestone in the battle fought by the Libyan people” and said France was “at their side” in a future comprised of “reconciliation, unity and freedom”.