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Libya had promised 'low-key' welcome of convicted bomber

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-09-07

Libya had assured Scotland that it would give a "low-key" reception to convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi following his release on compassionate grounds, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has told the Scottish parliament.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defended his decision to release the Lockerbie bomber during an emergency parliament session on Monday.

MacAskill said Libya had welcomed Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in an "inappropriate" manner after having assured Scottish authorities he would be given a ‘”low-key reception”’.

Megrahi, who was released on compassionate grounds due to his terminal cancer, was given a hero’s welcome on his return to Tripoli last Thursday. Hundreds of people waving Libyan and Scottish flags welcomed him. Megrahi also had a televised meeting with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The justice secretary drew fierce criticism from Edinburgh parliament members during Monday’s debate. FRANCE 24’s Benedicte Paviot in London says MacAskill came under fire for not considering the option of putting Megrahi in a local hospice instead of allowing him to return home.

The justice secretary reiterated that his decision leaned entirely on compassionate grounds under Scotland's laws.
"It was not based on political, diplomatic or economic considerations," he said, adding: "It was my decision and my decision alone. I stand by it,” he told Scottish MPs who had returned early from their summer break.

Fifty-seven-year-old Meghrahi, sentenced to life in prison in 2001, served just eight years in a Scottish jail.

He is the only person convicted in connection with the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The majority of the 270 people killed were American.

‘Crass decision’

MacAskill has survived Monday’s grilling session, but he is likely to face further testing times as the political fallout from his controversial decision continues to grow, says Paviot.

Former Scottish first minister Jack McConnell called the decision a "grave error of judgement."

"The way in which the decision has been made and the decision itself have damaged the reputation of the Scottish justice system," McConnell said on Sunday. "It's damaged that reputation, but much more significantly it's also damaged the reputation of Scotland internationally."

The Scottish government’s decision drew the ire of Washington and victims’ families. FBI chief Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the decision was “a mockery of the law” and “gives comfort to terrorists around the world.”

But Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said he "clearly disagreed" with the FBI director. "It is difficult for people sometimes in the United States to recognise that it is a different legal system, but it is a legal system, it is a Scottish legal system and therefore we have to follow the tenets of Scottish justice," Salmond told Sky News.

The diplomatic fall-out with Washington could have serious repercussions for the Scottish government and is by far the toughest challenge the Scottish National Party (SNP) has faced since taking office in 2007.

Date created : 2009-08-24