WASHINGTON — Top US lawmakers on Thursday hailed news of Moamer Kadhafi's death, saying Libya was now "liberated" and calling for closer ties between Washington and Tripoli as the war-torn country tries to rebuild.

"Kadhafi's death marks the end of his reign of terror and the promise of a new Libya," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, an early champion of NATO's air campaign against Kadhafi's forces.

Kerry, a Democrat, urged Libya's National Transitional Council to move to a permanent, democratically elected government and urged the international community to stick by Libya's people and help them build new institutions.

"This is an extraordinary moment, but the days ahead will not be easy. The Middle East revolutions remind us that creating a free and tolerant political order is a more difficult challenge than removing a despotic one," he said.

Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Kadhafi's death marked the end of "the first phase" of Libya's revolution and called for closer ties between Washington and Tripoli.

"The death of Moamer Kadhafi marks an end to the first phase of the Libyan revolution. While some final fighting continues, the Libyan people have liberated their country," the Republican lawmaker said in a statement.

His comments came shortly after a spokesman for the National Transitional Council said Kadhafi had been killed by new regime forces in their final assault on the last pocket of resistance in his hometown Sirte.

"Now the Libyan people can focus all of their immense talents on strengthening their national unity, rebuilding their country and economy, proceeding with their democratic transition, and safeguarding the dignity and human rights of all Libyans," said McCain.

"The United States, along with our European allies and Arab partners, must now deepen our support for the Libyan people, as they work to make the next phase of their democratic revolution as successful as the fight to free their country," he said.

Democratic Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, said in his official Twitter feed that "Libyans are safer now" after Kadhafi's death and the "Arab world is breaking free."

But "never celebrate death of anyone, even bad people," he said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said "tyranny, oppression, and violence defined Kadhafi's time in power" and said that his death, if confirmed, would open a new chapter in Libya's history.

"It marks a critical moment for the Libyan people to turn their nation away from its grim past as a rogue state and toward a future of freedom marked by alliances with the United States, Israel, European democracies, and other responsible nations," she said.

"Libya's future must be marked by the establishment of a democratic government which is tolerant, inclusive, and free from extremist influence," said Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who recently traveled with McCain to Libya, said Kadhafi's death marks "a new opportunity for freedom, prosperity and a voice in the global community for Libyans."

"The administration, especially (US) Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton, deserve our congratulations," he said in a statement.