Muammar Qadhafi, the former Libyan strongman who fled into hiding after rebels toppled his regime two months ago in the Arab Spring's most violent uprising, was killed on Thursday as fighters battling the vestiges of his loyalist forces wrested control of his hometown of Sirte, the interim government announced.

Al-Jazeera television showed what it said was Colonel Qadhafi's corpse as jubilant fighters in Sirte fired automatic weapons in the air, punctuating what appeared to be an emphatic and violent ending to his four decades as the self-proclaimed king of kings of Africa.

Libyans rejoiced as news of his death spread. Car horns blared in Tripoli as residents poured into the streets to celebrate.

Mahmoud Shammam, the chief spokesman of the National Transitional Council, the interim government that replaced Colonel Qadhafi's regime after he fled Tripoli in late August, confirmed that the Libyan leader was killed, though he did not provide other details.

“A new Libya is born today,” he said. “This is the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial. It seems God has some other wish.”

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the Tripoli military council, said on Al-Jazeera that anti-Qadhafi forces had the body.

It was not clear precisely how he died. Some reports, which could not be verified, recounted that Colonel Qadhafi was arrested, wounded by gunshots and died in custody.

Libya's interim leaders had said they believed that some Qadhafi family members, including the colonel himself and some of his sons, had been hiding in Sirte or in Bani Walid, another loyalist bastion that the anti-Qadhafi forces captured earlier this week.

There was no immediate comment on the news of his death from U.S. officials or from NATO, which conducted a prolonged bombing campaign against Colonel Qadhafi's military during the uprising that led to his downfall.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, travelling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Afghanistan, said the department was aware of the reports “on the capture or killing of Muammar Qadhafi.”

There was also no immediate comment from Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the interim government's top official. But he had said that the death or capture of Colonel Qadhafi would allow him to declare the country liberated and in control of its borders, and to start a process that would lead to a general election for a national council within eight months.

Libyan fighters said earlier on Thursday that they had routed the last remaining forces loyal to Colonel Qadhafi's from Sirte, ending weeks of fierce fighting in that Mediterranean enclave east of Tripoli.

A military spokesman for the interim government, Abdel-Rahman Busin, said: “Sirte is fully liberated.” — New York Times News Service

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