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Latest update : 2009-08-26

During his visit to the United States to attend the UN General Assembly, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi plans to pitch his tent in a New Jersey suburb. But the mayor isn’t rolling out the welcome mat.

AFP - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may pitch his tent in a New Jersey suburb during a visit to the United Nations. But Michael Wildes, the mayor of Englewood, New Jersey isn't rolling out the welcome mat.

"I don't want him to sleep here," Wildes told AFP.

The Libyan leader, saying he wants to stay true to his Bedouin roots, camps in a tent when he travels, setting up his sleeping quarters everywhere from Rome's main park to a garden across from the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Gaddafi's visit to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly has set off a round of diplomatic handwringing in Washington, coming so soon after the hero's homecoming that Libya gave last week to the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airplane bombing.

But in Englewood, a bedroom community of some 30,000 people across the Hudson river from New York City where Gaddafi plans to stay on the grounds of a Libyan diplomat, feelings are especially raw because families of many of the 270 victims of the bombing live nearby.

"Here, 38 families have lost parents, a friend of mine lost his father, Lockerbie has had an impact on my life," said Wildes, 44.

"My citizens are furious, I am furious," he said.

The Scottish government last week ordered the release on compassionate ground of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, saying the Lockerbie bomber had prostate cancer and only a few months to live.

US anger over the decision flamed higher when al-Megrahi flew home with Gaddafi's to a flag waving celebration by hundreds of well-wishers in Tripoli.

The mayor said he would take part in a demonstration to be held Sunday in front of Libyan diplomatic property, which officials have been sprucing up in advance of the Gaddafi visit.

"I am the grandson of an Holocaust survivor. If he comes we will protect him, but that doesn't mean we're happy. My job is to respect the law but to express my opinion. I don't want him to sleep here," said Wildes.

"The man is a financier of terrorism before Bin Laden," he said.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the United States had an agreement with the United Nations to let in foreign leaders and said it was unclear how to restrict him within the New York area.

Senator Frank Lautenberg called on the State Department to restrict Gaddafi to the immediate UN area and block him from planting his tent in Englewood.

"Given recent events, I believe the State Department should ensure that Colonel Gaddafi's entry into the United States is for official UN business only and does not allow him to travel freely," Lautenberg said Monday.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly noted Tuesday that the United States had an agreement with the United Nations to let in foreign leaders and said it was unclear how to restrict him within the New York area.

"Of course our priority has been and will remain the families of the victims of this tragedy," Kelly said.

"We're also talking to the Libyans to highlight the concerns that we have and the very raw sensitivities of the families who live in that area," he said.

But he added: "As far as the legal levers that we would have, I'm not sure."

"We are generally obligated to facilitate travel to foreign nationals to and from UN headquarters in New York," he said.

The United States warned Libya it had set back improving relations with the West.

But it has said it is too early to talk of punishing Libya and has not ruled out a chance encounter at the United Nations between Gaddafi and President Barack Obama.

Gaddafi, once a pariah to the West, has been reconciling with the United States and European nations since in 2003 renouncing terrorism and declaring he was giving up the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Date created : 2009-08-26