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Tripoli turns into party zone as Gaddafi marks 40 years in power

Video by Carlotta RANIERI , Jessica LE MASURIER

Text by Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2009-09-01

Fireworks and festivities in the Libyan capital of Tripoli starting Tuesday mark the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power. But controversy stalks the regime after the Lockerbie bomber's "hero's welcome".

Huge crowds are expected to flood the streets of Tripoli for lavish celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Muammar Gaddafi’s rise to power. Buoyant shows, military parades, dancing and fireworks are to mark Libya’s comeback on the international scene after years as the world’s underdog branded by UN sanctions.

Forty years ago, Gaddafi, then an unknown 27-year-old army officer, staged a bloodless coup against the ailing western-backed King Idris, who was exiled to Egypt.

Despite Libya’s partial rehabilitation since it renounced the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003, most western leaders have snubbed the event, angered by the hero’s welcome given to the convicted Lockerbie bomber who was released by Scottish authorities on August 20.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Maltese President George Abela are nevertheless expected to attend shows masterminded by French event organizer Martin Arnaud, who prepared the opening ceremonies of France’s 1998 football World Cup and the Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Gaddafi’s guest list also includes the 27 African heads of state who attended an African Union summit in Libya on Monday.


The Lockerbie row

The release on compassionate grounds of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi is still making headlines in Britain and the US.

Having ignored US and British pleas to keep al-Megrahi’s reception as discreet as possible, Tripoli is preparing to honour the ailing former Libyan agent during a screening of his joyful homecoming two weeks ago, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

The British government has scrambled to deny allegations that the release of al-Megrahi, who was jailed in 2001 for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which killed 270 people, was linked to juicy oil contracts in Libya.

To diffuse tensions, British authorities agreed, on Tuesday, to publish all documents and correspondence relating to al-Megrahi’s release, who was officially released on compassionate grounds because he is terminally ill with prostate cancer.

Gaddafi’s son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who accompanied al-Megrahi on his journey home, also dismissed claims that the convicted bomber’s release was linked to business opportunities in the oil-rich North African state.

“Lockerbie is history”, he told the Scottish newspaper the Herald, “the next step is fruitful and productive business with Edinburgh and London.”

The Libyan head of state marked his latest diplomatic victory this weekend when he received Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to celebrate the first anniversary of a friendship treaty with the former colonial power.
The two leaders also set the foundation stone for a 1,200 kilometre (750 mile) coastal highway to be paid for by Italy as compensation for alleged colonial exactions.
Reform and human rights progress still lagging

Promises of economic and political reform made over recent years have yet to be honoured despite support from Seif al-Islam, who has accused Libya’s “civil servant mafia” of opposing reform.

A recent report by the International Monetary Fund said it was “crucial” for Libya to strengthen the management of public finances and “improve the legal and administrative framework governing the state budget.”

Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch has hailed “limited steps toward increased press freedom, legal reforms, and increased tolerance of dissent,” on Gaddafi’s 40th anniversary, though repeating calls for the release of all political prisoners and the removal of repressive laws.

Date created : 2009-09-01