GRISLY: People take pictures of the body of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi inside a meat locker in Misrata on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS

MOUNTING calls for an investigation into whether Muammar Gaddafi was executed were yesterday overshadowed by an announcement by Libya's new rulers that the country was free after 42 years under the dictator and an eight-month civil war.

An autopsy confirmed Mr Gaddafi died from a gunshot to the head, Libya's chief pathologist, Dr Othman al-Zintani, said yesterday. He refused to give the details of Mr Gaddafi's final moments, saying the attorney- general should see the report.

The United Nations (UN) has already said it would conduct an investigation after grisly footage of Mr Gaddafi's last minutes. The same day the African Union called for an investigation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Britain's Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said a full investigation was necessary.

Libya's acting leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil yesterday announced Libya was free and kneeled in prayer after taking the podium. He promised to uphold Islamic law and honour all contracts and international obligations.

The Libyan revolutionaries' image had been "a little bit stained" by Gaddafi's death, Mr Hammond said yesterday, adding that the new government "will want to get to the bottom of it in a way that rebuilds and cleanses that reputation".

"It's certainly not the way we do things," Mr Hammond told BBC television. "We would have liked to see Col Gaddafi going on trial to answer for his misdeeds." Ms Clinton said she backed a proposal that the UN investigate Gaddafi's death and that Libya's Transitional National Council look into the circumstances, too.

Mr Gaddafi was captured wounded, but alive on Thursday in his home town of Sirte, the last city to fall to revolutionary forces. Bloody images of him being taunted and beaten by his captors have raised questions about whether he was killed in crossfire as suggested by government officials or deliberately executed.

His body has been on public display in a commercial freezer in a shopping centre in the port city of Misrata, which suffered from a bloody siege by regime forces that instilled a virulent hatred for the dictator in its residents. People have lined up for days to view the body and take pictures, which was laid out on a mattress on the freezer floor. The bodies of Gaddafi's son Muatassim and his former defence minister Abu Bakr Younis were there too.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch, which viewed the bodies, said video footage, photos and other information it obtained "indicate that they might have been executed after being detained".

The Syrian-based Al-Rai TV station, which has served as a mouthpiece for the Gaddafi clan, said the dictator's wife, Safiya, also demanded an investigation.

"I am proud of the bravery of my husband, Muammar Gaddafi, the holy warrior, and my sons who confronted the aggression of 40 countries over the past six months," the station quoted the widow as saying.

Most Libyans seemed unconcerned about the circumstances of the hated leader's death, but rather were relieved the country's ruler was gone .

The long-awaited declaration of liberation yesterday started the clock on Libya's transition to democracy . Sapa-AP