TRIPOLI, Libya — The chief of Libya's revolutionary movement told thousands of cheering Libyans in Tripoli Monday to strive for a civil, democratic state, while loyalists of the hunted dictator Moammar Gadhafi killed at least 15 opposition fighters in an attack on a key oil town in Libya's east.
From hiding, Gadhafi urged his remaining followers to keep up the fight, a sign that Libya's six-month civil is not over even though revolutionary forces now control most of the country and have begun setting up a new government in the capital.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil addressed a rowdy crowd of thousands in Martyr's Square in central Tripoli, a site that until recently was famous for pro-Gadhafi rallies. Flanked by a few dozen revolutionary leaders in their largest public gathering since rebel forces stormed into the capital on Aug. 21, he called on Libyans to build a state based on the rule of law.
"No retribution, no taking matters into your own hands and no oppression. I hope that the revolution will not stumble because of any of these things," he said.
As he spoke, thousands waved flags, cheered and chanted, "Hold your head high, you're a free Libyan!" Some wept openly as fireworks exploded overhead.
Abdul-Jalil heads the National Transitional Council, founded in the eastern city of Benghazi early in the six-month civil war to guide the rebel movement. Its leaders have been arriving in the capital since it fell into rebel hands last month to start building a new government.
Abdul-Jalil, who served as Gadhafi's justice minister before joining the rebels at the uprising's start, defined the government he says the NTC hopes to create.
"We strive for a state of the law, for a state of prosperity, for a state that will have Islamic sharia law the basis of legislation," he said.
He also thanked NATO, the United States and a number of Arab and European countries for their aid to the rebels during the war. NATO bombed Gadhafi's military under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians, giving rebel forces an edge on Gadhafi's better armed and trained soldiers.
Abdul-Jalil said the new Libya would focus on youth and women, adding that some ministries and embassies would be headed by women. Some have criticized the rebel movement for not putting women in leadership roles, and none stood on stage with the movement's leaders.
This didn't bother some in the crowd.
"God willing, all he said will come true," said Sabriya Mohammed, 50, who came to the rally with her two adult daughters. "He mentioned women specifically and said we'd have our place. He's a man who knows the importance of the law."
Libya's new leaders face the huge challenge of building a new government in a country with no recent history of democracy or independent civil institutions. They also have yet to extend their control over all of Libya.
From hiding, Gadhafi called on his remaining followers Monday to keep fighting.
"We will not be ruled after we were the masters," said the brief statement attributed to Gadhafi that was read on Syria's Al-Rai TV by its owner Mishan al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi lawmaker and Gadhafi supporter.
The message described Libya's new leaders as "traitors" who are willing to turn over the country's oil riches to foreign interests.
"We will not hand Libya to colonialism, once again, as the traitors want," said the statement, which pledged to fight against the "coup."
Gadhafi's whereabouts are unknown, but his followers claim he is still in Libya. Some of his family members have fled to neighboring Algeria and others to Niger, most recently his son al-Saadi.
Showing that his loyalists still pose a threat to opposition control, suspected loyalists staged deadly attacks on the Ras Lanouf oil terminal in Libya's east that began with saboteurs setting fires and then shifted to a convoy of gunmen riding in from the desert.
Col. Hamid al-Hasi, the commander for anti-Gadhafi forces in eastern Libya, said a group of 15 employees set fire to the facility, located on the Mediterranean coast about 380 miles (615 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
In a possibly coordinated attack, the port was then targeted by a convoy of armed men apparently based in a refugee camp about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Ras Lanouf.
The supervisor of the Ras Lanouf hospital, Dr. Ahmad El-Gnashi, said 15 guards were killed and two injured.
Revolutionary forces are still struggling to seize control of at least three other towns.
Opposition pickup trucks mounted with machine guns converged outside the loyalist-held town of Bani Walid for a possible intensified assault after several failed attempts to drive out pro-Gadhafi forces. One opposition commander claimed Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam is leading loyalist forces massed in the town, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
It's unlikely that pro-Gadhafi fighters can withstand a sustained siege on the town. But it's unclear whether the showdowns in the last loyalist strongholds — including Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte — will mark a crippling end or open a new phase of an underground insurgency and hit-and-run attacks against Libya's new leadership.
Dozens of cars loaded with Libyan families and personal belongings streamed out of the town in anticipation of a fresh assault.
Khairiyah al-Mahdi, a 40-year-old housewife, was fleeing the town along with her husband, six daughters and two sons.
She said her house was among the first to fly the revolution's tricolor flag when Libyan fighters pushed into Bani Walid over the weekend. But deteriorating living conditions, threats from Gadhafi supporters and heavy clashes in the town prompted her family to flee.Comment on this story
"We left Bani Walid because Gadhafi loyalists in control of the local radio announced through airwaves that anyone helping the rebels or part of them will be killed," she said. "A lot of people are scared and now leaving."
NATO, which has played a key role in crippling Gadhafi's military forces since intervening in Libya's civil war in late March, has kept up its attacks on remaining pro-Gadhafi sites. The military alliance said its warplanes hit targets Sunday in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, including a military logistics facility and three surface-to-air missile systems.
The Misrata Military Council said clashes inside Sirte between Gadhafi loyalists and opposition backers has left at least three people dead.
Al-Shalchi reported from Wadi Dinar, Libya.