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As Democratic Tunisia and New Libya Emerge, No End in Sight to Syrian Uprising

October 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: And we turn to the shifting political winds in the Arab world and what the future holds when and if the immediate upheaval subsides. We begin with a recap of the news from Libya, Tunisia and Syria.

A warning: What you are about to see contains some disturbing images.

From Libya today came word the public will no longer be allowed to view the battered corpse of Moammar Gadhafi, as hundreds have lined up to do since Friday.

FAWZI EL-FAKIH, Libya: The terrorist is gone. The regime is gone. Now we have to look for a new future. I just came here to see and make sure that he is finished, and every piece of my body knows that he is gone, finished, is gone, finished now.

GWEN IFILL: Gadhafi’s remains and those of his son Mutassim and his former defense minister had been displayed in a commercial freezer in Misrata. The local military council is now saying they may finally be buried tomorrow.

In Tripoli, the country’s interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, announced officials will review the circumstances of Gadhafi’s death.

MUSTAFA ABDUL-JALIL, Head of Libyan National Council (through translator): We have indeed requested, based on international demands, that the death of Gadhafi be investigated, as he died during a clash in crossfire with his supporters.

GWEN IFILL: In a new twist, Abdul-Jalil suggested Gadhafi might have been killed by his own supporters to guarantee he never talked about their misdeeds.

But even more graphic images have emerged of the deposed dictator’s last moments, as he was beaten and dragged in his hometown of Sirte. And there are new questions about a mass grave found yesterday in Sirte. It contained the bodies of 53 people.

Human Rights Watch said they appeared to be Gadhafi loyalists who may have been executed by rebel forces. Sunday in Benghazi, many Libyans were still celebrating their newfound freedom. Interim leader Abdul-Jalil addressed thousands and set out plans for a post-Gadhafi government with an Islamist foundation.

MUSTAFA ABDUL-JALIL (through translator): We, as a Muslim nation, take Sharia law as the basic source of law.

GWEN IFILL: In neighboring Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab spring, the moderate Islamic party Ennahda appeared to have won Sunday’s election for a national assembly. Turnout was nearly 90 percent in the country’s first truly democratic vote, and Tunisians reveled in it.

AHMAD NEJIB CHEBBI, Founder, Tunisia Progressive Democratic Party (through translator): I feel so delighted now because I took part along with the Tunisian people and I did my part as a voter. I participated in the laying of the foundation stone for the democratic nation which we deserve. It proves again that we are worthy of democracy. The values of civilization and civility are the values of our revolution.

DIA TREKI, Resident of Tunisia (through translator): There is nothing stronger than the feeling of voting. I passed my exams, I had children, but I have never felt anything like that in all my 40 years. To decide the future of your country, there is nothing better than that.

GWEN IFILL: Tunisia’s longtime leader president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was toppled in January after a month-long uprising, which quickly spread across North Africa and the Middle East.

But, in Syria, there was still no end in sight to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Video shot around the city of Homs on Sunday appeared to show damage and fires caused by shelling from tanks and heavy artillery. Over the weekend, the U.S. pulled Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus. State Department officials cited credible threats to his personal safety.

Ford had played a high-profile role since the Syrian uprising began this year. In July, he angered the Assad government by visiting the city of Hama as protests began there. And last month, his convoy was pelted with eggs and tomatoes as he arrived at the office of a leading opposition figure.

In Washington today, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the regime had conducted a smear campaign against Ford.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: You have seen the incidents that he’s encountered. On top of that now, we have these incidents of state-run media, Al-Thawra, Al-Baath, going after him personally, spreading lies about what he is up to, and the concern is that this could lead to further violence.

GWEN IFILL: The Syrians responded by recalling their ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha.