Libya's ruling council handed over power to a newly elected national assembly yesterday in the North African country's first peaceful transition of power in its modern history but which comes amid heightened violence.
In a late-night ceremony held under tight security in Tripoli, the National Transitional Council (NTC), political arm of the opposition forces that toppled Muammar Gaddafi a year ago, handed over to the national congress, elected in July.
NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil symbolically passed on the reins to the oldest member of the new 200-member assembly, Mohammed Ali Salim.
"The National Transitional Council hands over the constitutional duties for leading the state to the general national congress, which from now on is the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people," Jalil said to loud cheers.
In a speech, Jalil, who announced he would retire after ending his NTC chief post, acknowledged "mistakes" had been made during an "extraordinary" transitional period and said security and disarmament issues had not been resolved in time.
The congress, whose members took an oath led by Salim, will now name a new chairman while the NTC will be disbanded. A first meeting was scheduled after the ceremony.
Large crowds gathered in Tripoli's Martyrs Square to celebrate the handover as fireworks lit up the sky.
The assembly will name a new prime minister who will pick his government, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after a new constitution is drafted next year.
A liberal coalition led by wartime rebel prime minister Mahmoud Jibril won 39 of the 80 party seats in the congress, while its Islamist rivals, the Justice and Construction Party - the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood - won 17.
However the remaining 120 seats are in the hands of independent candidates whose allegiances are hard to pin down.
In the battle to hold sway over the assembly, where key decisions will require a two-thirds majority, Jibril's National Forces Alliance and the JCP are scrambling to form alliances with independents and smaller parties.
Some independents, distrustful of both sides, have spoken of forming their own coalition.