Libya to honour released Lockerbie bomber on Gaddafi anniversary
Ani September 1st, 2009
TRIPOLI - Libya has decided to celebrate the Lockerbie bomber’s release openly at today’s festivities marking Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 40 years in power, it has emerged.
A video clip showing Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi stepping off the plane which brought him home from his Scottish prison two weeks ago will be projected onto a giant screen in Tripoli’s Green Square during the two-hour spectacular, the Times reports.
In the clip,his arms are raised aloft by Colonel Gaddafi’s son, Saif, as he acknowledges the joyful reception from the crowd below. he inclusion of the footage seems almost calculated to provoke the West.
Britain and America had urged Libya to keep al-Megrahi’s homecoming low key, and President Obama and Gordon Brown both expressed disgust when he was given what appeared to be a rapturous welcome at Tripoli airport.
Libya is staging six days of celebrations in honour of Gaddafi’s contribution to the country, including military parades and a floodlit extravaganza with scantily clad dancers, from Tuesday.
Gaddafi was a 27-year old signals officer when he led an army putsch against the ailing King Idris in 1969.
In the lead-up to the events, Gaddafi sought to burnish his reputation on the international stage but with mixed results. Dozens of Western leaders were invited to the no expense spared celebrations in Tripoli but only President George Abela of Malta and his wife Margaret are attending. (ANI)
By Aidan Lewis
Muammar Gaddafi is marking the 40th anniversary of the revolution which brought him to power.
Col Gaddafi seems to have a fresh outfit for every occasion
Col Gaddafi is the longest-serving leader in both Africa and the Arab world, having ruled Libya since he toppled King Idris I in a bloodless coup at the age of 27.
Known for his flamboyant dress-sense and gun-toting female body guards, the Libyan leader is also considered a skilled political operator who moved swiftly to bring his country out of diplomatic isolation.
It was in 2003 - after some two decades of pariah status - that Tripoli took responsibility for the bombing of a Pan Am plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, paving the way for the UN to lift sanctions.
Months later, Col Gadaffi's regime abandoned efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, triggering a fuller rapprochement with the West.
That saw him complete a transition from international outcast to an accepted, if unpredictable, leader.
"He's unique in his discourse, in his behaviour, in his practice and in his strategy," says Libya analyst Saad Djebbar.
"But he's a shrewd politician, make no mistake about that. He's a political survivor of the first order."
Muammar Gaddafi was born in the desert near Sirte in 1942.
In his youth he was an admirer of Egyptian leader and Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser, taking part in anti-Israel protests during the Suez crisis in 1956.
As a man he is surprisingly philosophical and reflective in his temperament - for an autocrat Benjamin Barber Political analyst
Shrewd Gaddafi plays host
He first hatched plans to topple the monarchy at military college, and received further army training in Britain before returning to the Libyan city of Benghazi and launching his coup there on 1 September 1969.
He laid out his political philosophy in the 1970s in his Green Book, which charted a home-grown alternative to both socialism and capitalism, combined with aspects of Islam.
In 1977 he invented a system called the "Jamahiriya" or "state of the masses", in which power is meant to be held by thousands of "peoples' committees".
The Libyan leader's singular approach is not limited to political philosophy.
On foreign trips he sets up camp in a luxury Bedouin tent and is accompanied by armed female bodyguards - said to be considered less easily distracted than their male counterparts.
A tent is also used to receive visitors in Libya, where Col Gaddafi sits through meetings or interviews swishing the air with a horsehair or palm leaf fly-swatter.
Benjamin Barber, an independent political analyst from the US who has met Col Gaddafi several times recently to discuss Libya's future, says the Libyan leader "sees himself very much as an intellectual".
"As a man he is surprisingly philosophical and reflective in his temperament - for an autocrat," he told the BBC News website.
Gaddafi hosts fellow heads of state in a Bedouin tent
"I see him very much as a Berber tribesman, somebody who came out of a culture informed by the desert, by the sand, and in some ways very atypical of modern leadership, and that's given him a certain endurance and persistence."
Col Gaddafi has long tried to exert his influence over the region and beyond.
Early on, he sent his army into Chad, where it occupied the Aozou Strip in the north of the country in 1973.
In the 1980s, he hosted training camps for rebel groups from across West Africa, including Tuaregs, who are part of the Berber community.
More recently, he has led efforts to mediate with Tuareg rebels in Niger and Mali.
The diplomatic community's rejection of Libya centred on Col Gaddafi's backing for a number of militant groups, including the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
1942: Muammar Gaddafi born near Sirte, Libya
1969: Seizes power from King Idris in bloodless coup
1973: Declares "cultural revolution", with formation of "people's committees"
1977: Declares "people's revolution", creating the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah
1986: US soldiers targeted in Berlin disco attack, three killed; US bombs Tripoli and Benghazi, killing dozens
1988: 270 people killed in bombing of Pan Am jet over Lockerbie
1992: UN imposes sanctions to pressure Libya into handing over Lockerbie bombing suspects
1999: Lockerbie suspects handed over; UN sanctions suspended
2003: Libya takes responsibility for Lockerbie, renounces weapons of mass destruction
2008: Libya and US sign compensation deal for bombings by both sides
2009: Lockerbie bomber freed
US president Ronald Reagan labelled Libya's leader a "mad dog", and the US responded to Libya's alleged involvement in attacks in Europe with airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.
Col Gaddafi was said to be badly shaken by the bombings, in which his adopted daughter was killed.
Spurned in his efforts to unite the Arab world, from the 1990s Col Gaddafi turned his gaze towards Africa, proposing a "United States" for the continent.
He adopted his dress accordingly, sporting clothes that carried emblems of the African continent or portraits of African leaders.
At the turn of the millennium, with Libya struggling under sanctions, he began to bring his country in from the cold.
In 2003 the turnaround was secured, and five years later Libya reached a final compensation agreement over Lockerbie and other bombings, allowing normal ties with Washington to be restored.
"There will be no more wars, raids, or acts of terrorism," Col Gaddafi said as he celebrated 39 years in power.
At home, the Libyan leader presents himself as the spiritual guide of the nation, overseeing what he says is a version of direct democracy.
In practice, critics say, Col Gadaffi has retained absolute, authoritarian control.
Dissent has been ruthlessly crushed and the media remains under strict government control.
Gaddafi's regime is accused of serious human rights abuses
Libya has a law forbidding group activity based on a political ideology opposed to Col Gaddafi's revolution.
The regime has imprisoned hundreds of people for violating the law and sentenced some to death, Human Rights Watch says.
Torture and disappearances have also been reported.
But aware of his age, Col Gadaffi is now thought to be preparing the ground for a transition.
It is far from clear who might succeed him.
Speculation has focused on one of his sons, Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi, a leading proponent of reform.
Sayf has announced that he is retiring from politics, but opinion is divided about whether this is a tactical move aimed at expanding his popular support.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi senior has promised that most of the country's ministries will be abolished, and their budgets - Libya's considerable oil windfall - will be handed straight to the population.
But though Libya's economy has been opened up to foreign investment, reform is slow.
Many Libyans are confused as to how things are changing and feel they are not benefiting from Libya's wealth, observers say, with public services poor and corruption rife.
"They are very cautious in terms of effecting change in case that would undermine their power," said Saad Djebbar.
"But at the same time they are aware that they should do something. That's why they are very, very slow."
NZ Pipe Band to perform for controversial Libyan leader The Party –
A small Christchurch pipe band is heading to Libya to help celebrate Muammar Gaddafi’s 40 years in power, surprising friends, family and even the Prime Minister.
The majority of European heads of state have boycotted Libya's huge celebrations of Gaddafi's reign after the fall-out from convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al-Meghari's release.
But the Christchurch pipe band will be playing to the controversial leader later tonight.
Ian Bensemann was a bit surprised when he found out his daughter was going to one of the world's current political hotspots.
“Becca came home one night from band practice and said ‘oh we're going to Libya’ and I sort of said ‘yeah right, what for?’” he says.
The pipe band is travelling to Libya to play in a military tattoo for one of this year's most controversial celebrations.
Thirty African leaders and other dignitaries are gathering in Libya for a week of lavish events to celebrate Mr Gaddafi.
Mr Bensemann says Mr Gadaffi invited the band from Christchurch and is bankrolling the entire trip.
“Basically Mr Gadaffi wanted a tattoo and Mr Gadaffi gets a tattoo,” he says.
Even Prime Minister John Key was surprised by the band’s travel plans.
“Really? Interesting choice of gig,” he says.
Western leaders have boycotted the celebrations after fall-out over Scotland giving Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi early release because he is dying of cancer.
Mr Bensemann said he had to explain the history of the Lockerbie bomber to his daughter before she left.
“She's only 20 so she actually didn't fully understand freeing the Lockerbie bomber and what sort of repercussions that would have,” he says.
Despite the dangers, the band has marched on to Tripoli, playing tonight to Mr Gadaffi with other players from around the world in traditional Scottish woollen kilts.
The band returns to Christchurch on Saturday.