[UPDATE] See video below.
President Barack Obama hailed Muammar Gadhafi’s death as a warning to authoritarian leaders across the Middle East that iron-fisted rule “inevitably comes to an end” and as vindication for his cautious U.S. strategy on Libya.
Obama joined U.S. politicians and ordinary Americans in welcoming the demise of Gadhafi, who was for decades regarded as a nemesis of American presidents, and he also sought to claim some of the credit for the Libyan strongman’s downfall.
“This marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya,” Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama made clear that he considered Gadhafi’s death a vindication of his “leading from behind” strategy that had drawn criticism at home for casting the United States in a support role in the NATO air assault in Libya.
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“Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we have achieved our objectives,” Obama said in a televised statement to Americans already weary of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. reaction reflected a tortured history with Gadhafi, viewed in the United States as a villain for his government’s links to the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland and a 1986 disco bombing in Berlin that targeted U.S. troops.
Obama also touted Gadhafi’s death as a warning to other authoritarian rulers in Middle East where revolts have already upended longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.
Washington is pressing for further sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his harsh crackdown on democracy protests.
“For the region, today’s events prove once more that the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” Obama said.
Obama said the United States would be a partner to Libya’s interim government and urged a swift transition to democratic elections, but he made no specific promises of aid.
Relatives of American victims of the flight blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland by Libyan agents 23 years ago said justice was served with Gadhafi’s death as he fled his home town and final bastion. [ID:nL5E7LJ3ZE]
“I hope he’s in hell with Hitler,” said Kathy Tedeschi, whose first husband Bill Daniels was among the 270 people killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Tabassum Zakaria, John Whitesides, Michelle Nichols; Editing by Doina Chiacu
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