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Welcome for bomber 'highly objectionable', says Obama

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-09-07

US President Barack Obama has called it "highly objectionable" that Libya has celebrated the return of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, but the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi says it is a "victory" for his country.

President Barack Obama on Friday led sharp US condemnation of Libya's welcome for convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, amid warnings about future ties with Tripoli.

 

"It was highly objectionable," Obama said as he left the White House for a 10-day vacation, referring to the red-carpet reception Megrahi received in his home country after Scotland freed him.

 

However, Seif al-Islam, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said in a televised interview Friday that the release was a "victory" for all Libyans.

 

Several US officials, meanwhile, said Washington would be watching how Libya treats Megrahi in the coming days and warned this could shape relations between the former arch-foes going forward.

 

Washington had strongly objected to the release, saying Megrahi should stay in prison over the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and warned of possible diplomatic repercussions if he drew a warm public welcome in Tripoli.

Asked about televised images of hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers cheering Megrahi's arrival, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs denounced it as an "outrageous and disgusting" display.

 

"We communicated with the Libyan government, we continue to watch what they do in the days going forward about this individual, and understand that the video that you saw yesterday was tremendously offensive to the survivors that lost a loved one in 1988," he told reporters.

 

Senior US officials warned of a potential setback in ties with Libya, which had warmed after Tripoli formally pledged in December 2003 to dismantle its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons capabilities and Washington removed Moamer Kadhafi's government from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

 

"What they will do going forward is going to have some kind of effect in our relationship," US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

 

"Libya has made every indication to us that they want to put their connection with terrorism in the past. So I think we're going to be watching very closely in the days and weeks ahead to see if indeed they do want to see these kinds of incidents in their past," said Kelly.

 

Neither Kelly nor Gibbs detailed the specific impact, if any, that Megrahi's treatment could have on relations.

 

Megrahi -- the only person found guilty of the attack, which killed 270 people in the air and on the ground in the Scottish hamlet of Lockerbie -- said he was "very relieved" to be free and described his conviction as a "disgrace."

 

He returned home with an official delegation that included Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam.

 

The jubilation surrounding his return has angered the families of the victims.

 

"We've made it quite clear that they need to be very careful and they need to be very sensitive about the feelings of the families. They need to restrain themselves for celebrating a convicted terrorist," said Kelly.

 

Megrahi was convicted of the attack, the worst in British history, in 2001 after a trial held under Scottish law in the Netherlands.
 

Date created : 2009-08-21

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