President Obama said the people of Libya have a chance to determine their own destiny in "a new and democratic" nation, now that former leader Moammar Gadhafi is dead.
"Today we can definitively say that the Gadhafi regime has come to an end," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden."The last major regime strongholds have fallen. The new government is consolidating the control over the country. And one of the world's longest-serving dictators is no more."
Obama called for an "inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya" that would be "the ultimate rebuke to Gadhafi's dictatorship," but acknowledged that is a long-term proposition.
"We are under no illusions," Obama said. "Libya will travel a long and winding road to democracy. There will be difficult days ahead. But the United States, together with the international community, is committed to the Libyan people."
Speaking seven months after authorizing U.S. participation in a NATO operation against Gadhafi's government, Obama praised the Libyan people and those who helped liberate them.
"For nearly eight months, many Americans have provided extraordinary service in support of our efforts to protect the Libyan people and to provide them with a chance to determine their own destiny," Obama said. "Our skilled diplomats have helped to lead an unprecedented global response."
Obama did not formally confirm Gadhafi's death, attributing it to Libyan officials who made the announcement this morning. The president's national security team spent the morning tracking divergent reports about Gadhafi's fate.
Gadhafi ruled "with an iron fist" for more than four decades, Obama said, years in which "basic human rights were denied, innocent civilians were detained, beaten and killed, and Libya's wealth was squandered."
"The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted," Gadhafi said.
"Above all, today belongs to the people of Libya," Obama said."This is a moment for them to remember all those who suffered and were lost under Gadhafi and look forward to the promise of a new day. And I know the American people wish the people of Libya the very best in what will be a challenging, but hopeful days, weeks, months and years ahead."
After his Rose Garden remarks, Obama headed to a White House ceremony to award Presidential Citizens Medals.
Libya will also be one of the topics of a 4:10 p.m. meeting between Obama and Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg; Obama could well make a statement after that meeting.
"The president looks forward to thanking the prime minister personally for Norway's important contribution to the NATO mission in Libya," said the White House schedule.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Libya on Tuesday, and had expressed hope that Gadhafi would be captured or killed.
Early this morning, Clinton received an initial report about Gadhafi via an e-mail on her Blackberry.
"Wow," Clinton said as she was being miked for a television interview. "Unconfirmed reports -- unconfirmed reports about Gadhafi being captured -- unconfirmed ... We've had a bunch of those before."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who lost the 2008 election to Obama, issued a statement citing Gadhafi's death, saying it "marks an end to the first phase of the Libyan revolution."
"While some final fighting continues, the Libyan people have liberated their country," Obama said. "Now the Libyan people can focus all of their immense talents on strengthening their national unity, rebuilding their country and economy, proceeding with their democratic transition, and safeguarding the dignity and human rights of all Libyans."
Gadhafi's death ends a significant era in U.S.-Middle East relations. The felled dictator has bedeviled American presidents since seizing power in 1969 and nationalizing Libya's oil industry.
Gadhafi's support of militant groups across the globe including the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco that killed an American soldier. President Ronald Reagan retaliated with an air bombing aimed at the headquarters of Gadhafi, whom he dubbed the "mad dog of the Middle East."
Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and their successors accused Gadhafi's government of plotting the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in late 1988.
Gadhafi attempted to reconcile with the United States in 2003 by giving up his nuclear weapons program.
The improved relations ended this year as Gadhafi sought to crush and kill opponents of his regime; President Obama authorized U.S. participation in a NATO operation to protect the rebels, action that helped them topple Gadhafi's government.
David's journalism career spans three decades, including coverage of five presidential elections, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 2000 Florida presidential recount and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the White House for USA TODAY since 2005. His interests include history, politics, books, movies and college football -- not necessarily in that order. More about David