Across Libya they celebrate. In Syria and the West they ask: is Assad next?

In Tripoli, Libyans appeared keen to seize the opportunity to build a new society

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Tens of thousands of people poured on to the streets in towns and cities across Libya yesterday to celebrate the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was captured and killed by revolutionary fighters in the last major bastion of resistance two months after his regime fell.

Many of those celebrating in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi would have known no other leader, having endured the rule of the Arab world's longest-serving dictator for 42 years.

"This is the happiest moment of my life," said Ibrahim Suleiman, a 22-year-old driver in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of Libya's revolution. "When I heard the news on television I didn't believe it; I ran off to the streets and I started jumping up and down."

Celebratory gunfire, car horns and even the steam whistles of ships in the harbour rang out across Tripoli as the news of Gaddafi's death filtered through.

Cries of "God is Great" rang out across the capital as thousands filtered into Martyrs' Square and people hugged each other in the street.

"We are free, that is what matters," said Al-Jilani Shiha, 55, from Tripoli. "We are not thinking about what or who comes next. The important thing is that the cruel inhuman leader called Gaddafi is gone," he said, raising his hands up towards the sky and shouting: "Thank God."

Looking to the future, Mohamed, a taxi driver in Tripoli, said Libyans were ready to listen to any political group, but would never tolerate another dictatorship. "We will never accept that one person or group rule us for an indefinite number of years even if they did amazing things and turned our lives into a paradise," he said.

In Syria, too, many were now looking to the future. Gaddafi's brutal end bolstered the opposition movement there, where President Bashar al-Assad is hanging on to power despite widespread protests.

"If I were a member of the regime, Bashar or [his brother] Maher, I would start to feel rather concerned," said Amr al-Azm, a Syrian dissident in the United States and member of the opposition.

US President Barack Obama also issued veiled warnings to Mr Assad, saying that Gaddafi's death showed that "the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end". White House spokesman Jay Carney stuck to familiar language about Syria, saying: "The President believes that Syria's leader has lost his legitimacy to rule."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted with shock when she discovered the news of Gaddafi's death from her BlackBerry, and was reported to have said: "We came, we saw, he died."