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UNITED NATIONS — The new Libya will join the international community as a nation committed to peace, security, and democracy, the head of the transitional government said Monday, as world leaders pledged support for the nation emerging from over four decades of rule under Moammar Gadhafi.
National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil took the floor for the first time at the United Nations, speaking at a high-powered meeting attended by U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other world leaders to assess the path forward after Gadhafi's ouster following an almost seven-month civil war.
Abdul-Jalil was at the world body as the new, albeit transitional, Libyan president — an appearance that marks what the international community hopes is the start of a new era in a nation best known for its support of terrorism and the eccentricities of its now ousted leader. The General Assembly voted Friday to transfer Libya's seat from Gadhafi to the former rebel movement.
"I want to assure everyone that Libya will be a vital state, a vibrant state that upholds the principles of peace and security in the region, a state that respects human rights, and establishes a nation in which Libyans can government themselves and seek official position through elections," Abdul-Jalil told several hundred ministers and diplomats.
Emerging later from the warm reception, he told reporters: "From the place where Moammar Gadhafi tore up the United Nations' Charter, we return today and say that Libya, as part of the international community, will work to achieve security and peace." He was referring to the ousted Libyan leader's rambling 96-minute speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 2009 where at one point he slightly ripped up the U.N. Charter, prompting a rebuke.
While upbeat about the country's future, Abdul-Jalil told the meeting that "the road before us is still long and there are many challenges at many levels ... either because of the presence of Gadhafi or because of challenges related to launching the development process to rebuild and reconstruct the state."
"Although we are a rich country, we require assistance," Abdul-Jalil said.
The meeting at the U.N., where Abdul-Jalil sat at a podium flanked by the new Libyan flag along with that of the U.N., comes at a pivotal time for the country. Although the former rebels have seized control over much of the country, they are still battling Gadhafi loyalists in several cities, including Sirte, which sits 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast. Gadhafi remains at large and on Tuesday issued a statement, saying in an audio recording that his regime is still alive and that was occurring in the country now was a "charade."
Qatar's emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose country was one of the first and most significant backers of the former rebels, urged all parties and sectors of Libyan society to meet "in some sort of a national congress to consult and to agree on measure to be taken to establish stability."
"Then only can they chart the course for the new state that the Libyans will choose to respond to their aspirations," the emir said.
Aside from the political and security issues, the OPEC member must also work on rebuilding its economy and restarting oil production that essentially halted with the outbreak of violence and an exodus of the foreign workers
who man the fields. Before the civil war, Libya produced about 1.6 million barrels per day, and only recently has output from at least one field begun.
In addition, the NTC is grappling with the mounting humanitarian crisis in the country, with thousands wounded in the fighting and water and food supplies still stretched.
World leaders at the meeting predicted challenging days ahead for Libya, but vowed to continue their support.
"After decades of iron rule by one man, it will take time to build the institutions needed for a democratic Libya. I'm sure there will be days of frustration," Obama said. "But if we have learned anything these many months, it is this — do not underestimate the aspirations and will of the Libyan people."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Abdul-Jalil "the United Nations will support you in every way we can."
The international community was instrumental in the ousting of Gadhafi, with sanctions being passed against Gadhafi's regime that froze Libya's assets abroad while NATO, empowered by the U.N. Security Council, conducted daily airstrikes to prevent pro-regime forces from targeting civilians.
Abdul-Jalil acknowledged that support, saying that Libyans "salute the international community" for its help and described the raising of the new Libyan flag in front of the United Nations' headquarters as a "historic day."
Sarkozy said he was proud to be part of the coalition that came to Libya's aid and "what makes us most proud is that among those who acted with us there were Arab brothers, Libyans, there was Qatar, there was the (United Arab) Emirates and Jordan."
"We simply are telling our Libyan friends, tell us how long do you want us to stay and stand with you, and we will do that," he said.
As a result of the coalition, he said, there was no massacre in Benghazi and no repetition of the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda.
"All the dictators in the world should know that henceforth. the international community is not condemned to just speaking and will take action, and where necessary with weapons in their hands in the service of democracy," Sarkozy said.
Abdul-Jalil said during his talks with Obama before the meeting they discussed ways of boosting security in the country, as well as national reconciliation and moving forward toward a democratic system.
Those points are viewed as pivotal by the international community which, while cheering the new Libyan government, also stressed its responsibilities.
"We hope the NTC will also meet its commitments to create representative and accountable structures, to take action to investigation allegations of human rights abuses and to ensure justice for all Libyans," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
The top British diplomat also stressed that the turnout for the Libya gathering at the U.N., and the warm welcome that Abdul-Jalil was receiving, should be a clear message to Gadhafi and his supporters that "their time is up."
Gadhafi "must be brought to justice under Libyan and international law," he said of the ousted dictator who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. "No country should consider giving a bolt hole to this fugitive from justice ... And any country that does consider giving him sanctuary should remember there is no expiry date for the charges he faces."