Tripoli: Ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a maverick who had ruled the country with an iron hand for over four decades, was shot and killed by the rebels on Thursday in his hometown of Sirte after weeks of heavy fighting.

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The former Libyan strongman died of his wounds after being captured from a hole where he had been hiding. He breathed his last when he was being transported, reports said.

His son Mutassim was also found dead in Sirte, a National Transitional Council commander said.

"We announce to the world that Gaddafi has been killed at the hands of revolution," Abdel Hafez Ghoga, a Spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC), said.

"It is a historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Gaddafi has met his fate."

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, an NTC military leader, also said that 69-year-old Gaddafi has been killed, an Arabic satellite channel reported.

Gaddafi's body was taken to a location which is being kept secret for security reasons, another NTC official was quoted as saying.

Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was captured by the rebels who shot him and injured him severely with bullets.

Celebrations broke out on the streets of Tripoli on news of capture of Gaddafi with the rebels going around the streets with guns in hands and cars out on the roads honking horns.

A senior NTC official as said that Gaddafi died of his wounds after being captured.

The news came shortly after NTC claimed that it had captured Sirte after weeks of fighting.

NATO and the US State Department said they cannot confirm the reports of Gaddafi's death.

Reacting to the development, Libyan Information Minister Mahmoud Shammam said, "It's a great victory for the Libyan people."

An NTC military official said that Abu Bakr Younus Jabr, the head of Gaddafi's armed forces, was also killed in Sirte.

Gaddafi came to power in a bloodless coup against King Idris in 1969, when he was just an army captain. He claimed to be "King of Kings," a title he had a gathering of tribal leaders grant him in 2008.

But the revolt against his rule that began in February evolved into civil war, leading to his ouster from power.

Earlier in the day, anti-Gaddafi forces said they had wrested control of the last holdout of loyalists in Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.

NTC had been waiting for weeks for the coastal city of Sirte to fall to officially declare liberation.

Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands for alleged crimes against humanity, had not been seen in public in months.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters in Sirte celebrated by firing in the air, BBC said.

Interim government forces had been facing heavy resistance from snipers in the city, and used heavy artillery during the offensive. Thousands of civilians had fled Sirte.

The NTC has also suffered heavy casualties in the town of Bani Walid, south-east of Tripoli, in recent weeks.

'Don't shoot', pleaded Gaddafi

"Don't shoot, don't shoot" were the last words of slain Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who was known for savage killing of dissidents during his reign of 42 years in the North African country.

69-year-old Gaddafi pleaded for mercy when rebels captured him while he was trying to flee from a drain where he was hiding in Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell in August.

Medioa reports said a rebel fighter claimed that Gaddafi was hiding in a hole in the centre of the city and pleaded "don't shoot".

The man brandished a golden pistol he took off the former Libyan leader, who was lying dead nearby.

Gaddafi's heavy-handed approach to quelling the protests against his regime was characterized by the International Federation for Human Rights as a strategy of scorched earth.

The UN referred the massacres of unarmed civilians to the International Criminal Court.

The ICC issued arrest warrants on June 27, 2011 for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi, head of state security for charges, concerning crimes against humanity committed against political opponents.

World greets death as end of despotism, war

Moreover, Western leaders welcomed the death of former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi as the end of despotism, tyranny, dictatorship and ultimately war in the north African country.

"It is an historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Gaddafi has met his fate," said a spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya's new rulers, in announcing the news.

As Libyans on the streets of Tripoli and Sirte fired automatic weapons into the air and danced for joy, world leaders began to weigh in on the death of the man who had ruled the oil-rich north African nation for more than 40 years.

In Rome, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after the death of his onetime ally: "Now the war is over."

"Sic transit gloria mundi (Thus passes the glory of the world)," Berlusconi said about the ousted ruler of Italy's former colony, quoting a Latin tag.

In Brussels, the European Union said that Gaddafi's death "marks the end of an era of despotism."

The news means an end also to the "repression from which the Libyan people have suffered for too long," EU president Herman Van Rompuy Van Rompuy said in a joint statement with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek will visit Libya from Saturday.

"I am happy I will be visiting a country fully liberated from a dictator who has imposed his iron fist for more than 40 years. Now Libya can truly turn the page," he said.

In Washington, senior US Senator John McCain said the death marked the end of the first phase of the Libyan revolution.

End of 40 years of tyranny: France

Meanwhile, France on Thursday said the death of Muammar Gaddafi marked the end of 40 years of tyranny in Libya and pledged its support to the people of the country for readying a political roadmap.

"The death of Gaddafi and fall of Sirte marks the end of a very difficult period and 40 years of tyranny in Libya. It is the beginning of new period for the people of Libya," France Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters here.

He said it was upto the people of Libya to decide their future.

"We are ready to support the political roadmap in Libya. New period is starting and it is a new beginning for the people of Libya," Juppe said.

Ousted Libyan dictator Gaddafi, a maverick who had ruled the country with an iron hand for over four decades, was shot and killed by the rebels today in his hometown of Sirte after weeks of heavy fighting.

He got what he deserved: Bulgarian nurses

Five Bulgarian nurses imprisoned in Libya for eight years over an HIV scandal today welcomed news of Muammar Gaddafi's death saying the Libyan strongman had "got what he deserved".

"The news made me very happy. It's a punishment. A dog like him deserved to die like a dog," Valya Chervenyashka told AFP.

The nurses were tortured and twice sentenced to death under Gaddafi's regime.

Valentina Siropolu, another of the nurses who were freed in 2007, said: "I am really happy, I was expecting it. He got what he deserved."

Two others, Snezhana Dimitrova and Kristiana Valcheva, however struck a different note.

"I would have been happy if he had been captured alive too," said Valcheva.

"I can't be happy about anyone's death, even my enemy,"added Dimitrova.

All five said they wanted Libya's new leaders to exonerate them.

"The Bulgarian government's main goal should be to demand that our innocence be recognised," said Chervenyashka.

"Gaddafi's death doesn't make me feel better, I claim my innocence," added Dimitrova.

The five Bulgarian nurses, along with a Palestinian-born doctor, were jailed in Libya in 1999 for allegedly infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a paediatric hospital in Benghazi.

(Agencies)