TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya’s new leaders will declare liberation today, officials said, starting the clock for elections after months of bloodshed that culminated in the death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

But the victory has been clouded by questions over how Gadhafi was killed after images emerged showing he was found alive and taunted and beaten by his captors.

The long-awaited declaration of liberation will come more than two months after revolutionary forces swept into Tripoli and seized control of most of the oil-rich North African nation. It was stalled by fierce resistance by Gadhafi loyalists in his hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid and pockets in the south.

MOVING FORWARD WITHOUT FEAR

Sirte was the last to fall, but Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent and many of his fighters have apparently escaped, raising fears they could continue to stir up trouble.

With Gadhafi gone, however, the governing National Transitional Council was moving forward with efforts to transform the country that was ruled by one man for more than four decades into a democracy.

In Tripoli, residents said they were relieved Gadhafi was killed, not captured, allowing the nation to move forward without fear that his supporters would try to sabotage the transition to democracy.

“If there was a trial, it would take some time. … Maybe there would be revenge attacks,” said Hosni Bashir, an employee of Libya’s national oil company, who was at a Tripoli hotel for the first meeting of a new political party. “Now, they (Libya’s new leaders) can start.”

Initially, NTC officials said the declaration of liberation would be made Saturday in the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolution’s birthplace. But spokesman Abdel-Rahman Busin said preparations were under way for a ceremony today instead. He didn’t give an explanation for the delay.

The transitional leadership has said it would declare a new interim government within a month of liberation and hold elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months, then to organize a parliamentary and presidential vote within a year after that.

HATRED MIXED WITH PRIDE

On Saturday, acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, who has said he plans to resign after liberation, said the interim government “should last until the first presidential elections.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, he also said the NTC must move quickly to disarm rebels who helped to overthrow Gadhafi’s 42-year-old regime. He said it was a priority to ensure huge caches of weapons are turned in during the “next few days.”

Jibril also said the Libyan people must remember the agony of the past and choose a different path for the future. He said he was “relieved” after Gadhafi’s ouster, describing it as a “great moment in my life.”

Gadhafi’s blood-streaked body was put on display in a commercial freezer at a shopping center in Misrata as Libyan authorities argued about where to bury the remains. Abdel-Basit al-Mzirig, the deputy justice minister, said Gadhafi will be buried according to Islamic tradition, but that his burial place will be kept secret.

Fighters from Misrata — a city brutally besieged by regime forces during the civil war — seemed to claim ownership of Gadhafi’s body, forcing the delay of a planned burial Friday.

Fathi Bashagha, a spokesman for the Misrata military council, said a decision will be made Saturday, but he ruled out a full autopsy unless demanded by an international committee or the transitional government, “and so far there have been no requests.”

At least four groups of doctors have examined the body and determined the cause of death was a bullet to the head and stomach, Bashagha said. “As far as we are concerned in Misrata, doctors have checked him and determined how he died, so there is no need to cut his body up,” he said.

The bloody siege of Misrata during the spring instilled a particularly virulent hatred of Gadhafi there — a hatred now mixed with pride because he was captured and killed by fighters from Libya’s third-largest city, 125 miles southeast of Tripoli.

Residents crowded into long lines to get a chance to see Gadhafi’s body, which was laid out on a mattress on the floor of an emptied vegetable freezer.

‘WE WANT TO SEE THE DOG’

The body had apparently been stowed in the freezer in an attempt to keep it out of the public eye, but once the location was known, that intention was swept away in the overwhelming desire of residents to see the man they so deeply despised.

Men, women and children filed in to take their picture with the body, with some chanting, “We want to see the dog.”

The body of the 69-year-old Gadhafi was stripped to the waist, his torso and arms streaked with dried blood. Bullet wounds in the chest, abdomen and left side of the head were visible.

Gadhafi’s bodyguard, Mansour Dao, was captured during the battle. In a television interview aired on Al-Arabiya last week, he said the Libyan leader had been in Sirte since fleeing Tripoli as it was being overrun in late August.

Gadhafi’s son Muatassim directed the battle, Dao said, while the Libyan leader spent most of his time trying to evade capture by moving between apartments and homes that had been owned by supporters.

Dao described chaotic and desperate conditions, and said Gadhafi recorded speeches that were transmitted by Thuraya satellite phone. His convoy was struck by NATO warplanes as it was trying to flee to an area called Jaref, and revolutionary forces subsequently moved in on the survivors, Dao said.