No agreement over burial plans as the hunt goes on for hated son

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Muammar Gaddafi’s body lay in a refrigerated meat store yesterday as wrangles over his burial cast a shadow over plans by Libya’s new leaders for a formal announcement today of the country’s liberation in the aftermath of the dictator’s death.

An official of the National Transitional Council (NTC) told Reuters, which reported that a bullet wound was visible through the corpse’s curly hair, that the military and political leadership had not yet agreed whether Gaddafi should be buried in Misrata, Sirte, or elsewhere.

Some interim officials were also said to be in talks with Gaddafi’s own tribe about the possibility that the clan would arrange a secret burial to avoid his grave becoming a shrine for loyalists in the future. The body was taken to Misrata from Sirte where the dictator was killed, in increasingly disputed circumstances, on Thursday.

Showing the bare-torsoed body, lying on a mattress inside the metal-lined cold-store yesterday, a local commander, Addul-Salam Eleiwa, said: "He will get his rights, like any Muslim. His body will be washed and treated with dignity. I expect he will be buried in a Muslim cemetery within 24 hours." But interim Oil Minister, Ali Tarhouni, said he proposed delaying the burial for several days to dispel any doubts the dictator was dead. Dozens of people, many with mobile phone cameras, filed in to see it for themselves.

Meanwhile, the fate of Saif al-Islam, the dictator’s best known son, was unclear with a spate of serially conflicting reports, including that he was on his way to neighbouring Niger in a convoy of three armoured vehicles to escape the NTC forces which overran Sirte on Thursday and killed his father.

Abdul Majid Mlegta, a senior military commander, told Reuters that Gaddafi’s former security chief and brother in law Abdulla El-Senussi, believed to be already hiding in Niger had been trying to organize safe passage of the dictator’s entourage from Sirte to Niger in recent days. “We are searching for him [Saif al-Islam]. The fighters in the region are on full alert," Mr Mlegta said.

The argument over the burial did little dent to mood the popular mood of euphoria at Gaddafi’s death, with celebrations continuing into yesterday’s early hours. The NTC is expected formally to announce the final “liberation” of the country in an announcement in Benghazi today.

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gaddafi’s death marked the start of a "new era" for the country. Nato's top commander Admiral Jim Stavridis, announced he was recommending to the Organisation’s meeting in Brussels an end to its military mission in Libya, adding it was “a good day for Nato, a great day for the people of Libya.”

But there were further calls abroad for the details of Gaddafi’s death to be investigated. The interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril’s explanation that he was caught in “crossfire” after being dragged, still clearly alive, from a drainage culvert, appeared at variance with video footage. This showed him being beaten while demanding legal rights and suggested he may have simply been shot in a summary execution.

Claudio Cordone of Amnesty International said that if Gaddafi was killed after his capture it would be a “war crime” and said the interim leadership was obliged to apply the same standards, “even to those who categorically denied it to others.”

Meanwhile Russia condemned the attack by Nato forces, which US officials acknowledged had involved one of its drones, on the convoy in which the dictator was travelling before he fled into his temporary hiding place. Serge Lavrov, the foreign minister said the attack did not conform to Nato’s mandate because “civilian life was not in danger” from the convoy.