TRIPOLI : An autopsy confirmed that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi died from a gunshot to the head, the country's chief pathologist said Sunday, just hours before Libya's new leaders were to declare liberation and a formal end to an eight-month civil war to topple the longtime ruler's regime.
The declaration starts the clock on a transition to democracy that is fraught with uncertainty and could take up to two years.
However, international concern about the circumstances of Qaddafi's death and indecision over what to do with his remains overshadowed what was to be a joyful day.
Qaddafi'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 during the spring.
The 69-year-old was captured wounded, but alive Thursday in his hometown of Sirte as it became the last city to fall to revolutionary forces.
Bloody images of Qaddafi 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.
An autopsy completed Sunday in Misrata showed that Qaddafi was killed by a shot to the head, said Libya's chief pathologist, Dr. Othman al-Zintani.
He would not disclose further details or elaborate on Qaddafi's final moments, saying he would first deliver a full report to the attorney general. Most Libyans weren't concerned 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 he (Qaddafi) 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. "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.