By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. General Assembly voted Friday to give Libya's seat in the world body to the former rebels' National Transitional Council which led the rebellion that ousted Moammar Gadhafi.
The vote means that a senior council official will be able to join world leaders and speak for Libya at next week's ministerial session of the General Assembly, and also participate in meetings.
The resolution was approved Friday by a vote of 114-17 with 15 abstentions, revealing divisions in Africa and Latin America over who should represent Libya.
Ahmed Omar Bani, a military spokesman for Libya's transitional government, said the U.N. decision proved that Gadhafi's regime was over.
He said the U.N. has recognized the National Transitional Council, known as the NTC, since it adopted a resolution March 17 authorizing military action to protect civilians and impose a no-fly zone over Libya and "now, they have confirmed that." The council acted to try to halt Gadhafi's advancing military and stop the Libyan strongman from carrying out a pledge to go after rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi.
"We are so proud because ... that means we are the right people who have the right to lead this country," Bani told The Associated Press.
"First, we would like to prove to the world that we are really a democratic country. Our culture is so far from the culture of Gadhafi and his loyalists," he said. "We spent more than 40 years in a dark tunnel, no colors and no voices except one voice, so now we would like to prove to the world that we are free people."
The General Assembly's credentials committee had unanimously recommended that the former rebels be seated. It's chairman, Panama's U.N. Ambassador Pablo Antonio Thalassinos, said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, who heads the NTC, had sent a letter seeking to take over Libya's seat.
But the committee's recommendation faced opposition from a left-leaning Latin America trade group, ALBA, that includes Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba among others.
Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Jorge Valero, speaking on behalf of the group, accused NATO forces of carrying out "criminal air raids ... in order to install a puppet government" and said seating the council "would represent an abominable precedent that would violate the most elementary principles of international law."
The Southern African Development Community regional bloc opposed giving the NTC credentials immediately, on the grounds that rebels did not yet constitute a government, but it failed to win support to defer the vote.
Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz urged the General Assembly to seat the NTC, saying close to 90 U.N. member states have recognized the NTC as the only representative of the Libyan people, "a number that is rising every day."
As the immediate neighbor of Libya, he said, Egypt "is the best witness of the most horrifying times that the people of Libya have lived as a result of an oppressive regime that ruled Libya for more than 40 years."
While Gadhafi's government officially occupied Libya's U.N. seat until Friday, it has not had a representative in New York for months. That's because Libya's ambassador, deputy ambassador and diplomatic staff disavowed Gadhafi and became early supporters of the NTC. They have continued to staff Libya's U.N. Mission, but were unable to participate in any U.N. activities - until Friday's vote
Associated Press Writer Kim Gamel contributed to this report from Tripoli, Libya.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) walks next to Mustafa Abdel Jalil (R), leader of the new Libyan ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), upon the former's arrival at Tripoli's airport on September 16, 2011 on the final leg of his 'Arab Spring' tour that took him to Egypt and Tunisia. (AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID)
French philosopher Bernard Henry Levy (C) poses with pro-National Transitional Council (NTC) combattants as he waits for the arrival of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, NTC President Abdel Jalid , NTC Prime minister Mahmud Jibril and Britain's Prime minister David Cameron at the Trilopi Medical Center on September 15, 2011 in Tripoli. British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Britain's help in hunting down fugitive strongman Moamer Kadhafi as he and France's Nicolas Sarkozy became the first foreign leaders to visit the new Libya. (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L), Libya's interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil (C) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) raise hands together after Erdogan spoke in Tripoli's renamed 'Martys' Square' on September 16, 2011, after Friday prayers. Erdogan is on the final leg of his 'Arab Spring Tour', which has taken him to Egypt and Tunisia. (MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Prime Minister David Cameron (L) shakes hands with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil at Tripoli Airport in Tripoli on September 15, 2011, during a one day visit to Libya with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Libyan visit of David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy marked the start of the 'colonisation' of the oil-rich country, Moamer Kadhafi's spokesman Mussa Ibrahim warned on the Arrai television channel. The British prime minister and French president, whose forces spearheaded the NATO air war that helped to topple Kadhafi, were hailed as heroes during their visit on Thursday to Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi. (STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Libya's National Transitional Council Leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil is pictured during his visit to Zawiya on September 14, 2011. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)