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NTC chief says ‘drastic changes’ await Libya after liberty; civilians flee Sirte horror

The current differences among the Libyans would not stand in the way of forming the forthcoming government after fully liberating the country, the head of the National Transitional Council (NTC) told Al Arabiya.

Mustapha Abdul Jalil said that Libya is currently passing through a critical phase on all sides, but once a full control on Sirte is achieved, a series of “drastic changes” will follow.

In his special interview with Al Arabiya, Jalil said that sharia (Islamic law) will be the main base of legislation in the new Libya. A balanced Islamic religion, away from extremism, will be applied in the country, he added.

Libya’s new rulers on Tuesday unveiled a group of fighters trained to serve in a national army, in a step toward bringing armed groups under central authority in a capital bristling with revolutionary volunteers who ousted Muammar Qaddafi.

More than 500 new recruits marched behind a military band in Tripoli’s Souq al-Jumaa district at a ceremony attended by a senior military officer to mark the end of their training for service in the national army, according to Reuters.

Tripoli hosts several militias claiming the right to secure the city, some from regions which shook off Qaddafi’s rule before the capital fell last month.

The ruling NTC is struggling to form a more inclusive interim government. Some militias do not recognize the NTC’s designated military commander for Tripoli.

The head of the Tripoli Military Council, which claims the authority of the NTC, and a self-appointed local governing body called on Monday for non-Tripoli units to pull heavy weapons from the capital. There are fears that friction between the militias could turn violent.

“I came to see the first graduation from the national army, the Souq al-Jumaa Brigade. I hope it will be a good step to secure Tripoli to end the military presence in the capital,” said Tripoli resident Zohair Mohammed, who attended the ceremony at a horse racing grounds.

Militia to secure Tripoli

The call for fighters from elsewhere to withdraw from the capital came after an anti-Qaddafi fighter announced the formation of a militia to secure Tripoli, a position also claimed by the military council led by Abdulhakim Belhadj, a veteran Islamist foe of Qaddafi.

The NTC has previously said it would try to direct thousands of militiamen into police forces and ensure militias disarm after securing control of a few pockets to resistance held by Qaddafi loyalists.

Civilians pouring out of Qaddafi’s hometown Sirte said on Tuesday the horror of the battle for the city finally forced them to conquer their fear of the besieging new regime forces and leave.

In Cairo, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said NATO operations in Libya should continue as long as heavy combat on the ground continues, according to AFP.

“I think fighting has to end,” he replied when asked how long the air campaign would last.

NATO operations were likely to continue as “they can’t continue to have the level of fighting that they have there.”

An AFP reporter said there was regular fire from the NTC tanks just outside Sirte late on Tuesday.

“Obviously there continues to be fighting by Sirte, by other areas” and “we still don’t know where Qaddafi is,” Panetta said in Egypt.

But he said the conflict “certainly is moving in the right direction” and “a lot of progress has been made” since the NATO operation was launched in March.

The civilian exodus from Sirte comes as an NTC commander of forces besieging the other remaining loyalist bastion of Bani Walid said Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam was directing the last stand in the desert oasis.

Civilian exodus from Sirte

Vehicles crammed with families and piled high with possessions queued at the succession of checkpoints on the coastal highway out of Sirte to have their belongings searched and identities checked by suspicious NTC forces.

There was fierce fighting on the front line on the western side of Sirte on Monday after what NTC forces said was a rocket and rocket-propelled grenade barrage against their positions by Qaddafi forces inside the city.

The fleeing civilians all spoke of an increasingly desperate situation inside Sirte as food supplies ran out.

An International Committee of the Red Cross team managed to deliver some desperately needed medical supplies on Monday.

But the persistent exchanges prevented it from carrying out a more detailed assessment of the needs, the ICRC said.

“ICRC staff crossed the front line with a fully loaded truck from the west side of Sirte,” the statement said.

NTC forces again shelled Qaddafi forces towards the city center on Tuesday afternoon from positions south of the hospital and conference center using tanks and an anti-tank gun, an AFP correspondent reported.

Saif al-Islam, his father and Qaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi are the subject of International Criminal Court war crimes arrest warrants for murder and persecution in the bloody uprising.

A delegation from Libya’s southern neighbor Niger met NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil in Benghazi on Tuesday. An AFP correspondent said the NTC gave the delegation a letter, but its contents are not known.

Another Qaddafi son, Saadi, is in Niger, but Niamey has no plans to send him home to face justice, Nigerien Prime Minister Brigi Rafini said on Thursday.

Global police agency Interpol had issued a notice warning to its member states -- which include Niger -- that Libya wants Saadi's arrest for alleged crimes while head of the country's football federation.