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Muammar Gaddafi, the autocratic former Libyan leader who ruled his country with an iron fist for over 40 years, has died in rebel hands but minority Christians remained concerned about their nation's future.

Video footage broadcast on Libyan television showed Gaddafi's bloodied corpse lying on the ground, surrounded by National Transitional Council forces who took custody of the body.

The head of Libya's NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, confirmed Gaddafi's death at a news conference in Tripoli. He was 69 years old. The United States said it also received confirmation of his death from Libyan officials.

The head of Libya's NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, confirmed Gaddafi's death at a news conference in Tripoli. He was 69 years old. The United States said it also received confirmation of his death from Libyan officials.

Yet, the circumstances of Gaddafi's killing remained unclear. 

NTC fighters claimed Gaddafi was found hiding under ground and shot and killed as they crushed remaining resistance by Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte. The Western military alliance NATO said its warplanes attacked two vehicles of pro-Gaddafi forces that were maneuvering around Sirte, 360 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli. 

Earlier officials said Gaddafi was injured in his legs while trying to escape from what is his hometown, but those reports were difficult to verify. The location of another Gaddafi son, Saif al-Islam, was not clear. Libyan officials believe he is on the run in the vast Libyan desert.

Human rights group, Amnesty International has urged the new Libyan authorities to ensure a "full, independent and impartial" investigation into Gaddafi death and saud that if he were deliberately killed while in captivity it would amount to a "war crime".

Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International, said that if Gaddafi was killed after his capture, "it would constitute a war crime and those responsible should be brought to justice."

“Investigating whether or not his death was a war crime might be unpopular," he said. "However, the NTC must apply the same standards to all, affording justice even to those who categorically denied it to others. Bringing al-Gaddafi to trial would have finally given his numerous victims answers as to why they were targeted and an opportunity for justice and reparations.”

Earlier, US President Barack Obama said Gaddafi's death marked the end of a "long and painful chapter" for the people of Libya who "now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya".

"This is a momentus day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has now been lifted."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was a "day to remember all of Colonel Gaddafi's victims".

In a reference to the NATO bombing campaign, he said he was proud of the way Britain had helped this day come about.

In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the country recognised the day "as a day of relief in Libya as the long war of liberation comes to an end."

As news about the former leader's death and capture spread, celebrations erupted across the country.

Minority Christians however have held special prayer meetings, including in Tripoli, amid concerns about their future and that of the nation.

There are also worries about black African Christians who have often been confused by rebels with Gaddafi mercenaries, said Open Doors, an advocacy group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians.

"Believers from African origin are not going outside the city for their own safety, but otherwise everyone is safe," added an Open Doors source earlier, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Heavily Islamic Libya currently ranks number 25 on the annual Open Doors' World Watch List of 50 nations known for their reported persecution of Christians.

It is prohibited to evangelise to Muslims or distribute Arabic scriptures, according to Open Doors investigators. Small Christian communities are mainly containing expatriates.

Several countries have evacuated them when war broke out, but Libyan Christians staying behind faced tense moments since the NATO alliance started a bombing campaign to stop Gaddafi's crackdown on opponents.

Before news of Gaddafi's death emerged, the Arab World Ministries group announced it asked believers around the world to pray for Libya's minority Christians, who comprise about 2.5 per cent of the North African country's mainly Sunni Muslim population of roughly 6.6 million people.