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Pressure mounts on British, Scottish govts over Megrahi's release


Latest update : 2009-09-07

As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown continued to deny striking any deals with Libya in exchange for Scotland's release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, the Scottish government lost a parliamentary vote on a motion to support the decision.

AFP - Britain denied Wednesday any "double-dealing" with oil-rich Libya over the release of the Lockerbie bomber but admitted it had not wanted the former Libyan agent to die in a Scottish prison.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was entirely a matter for the Scottish government, which freed him on compassionate grounds last month because he is dying of cancer.

"There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to influence Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to Colonel Kadhafi," he said.

A Libyan minister backed Brown late Wednesday, saying there was "nothing to hide" and no deals were done over efforts to secure the release of Megrahi.

"Business was not involved at all and I was the main negotiator," Abdelati al-Obidi, Libya's Europe minister and chief Lockerbie negotiator, told the Guardian newspaper in Tripoli.

"The health of Megrahi was always the main issue. We were all concerned that our relations did not deteriorate if he died in prison."

The comments came as a Libyan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Megrahi had been admitted to intensive care in a Tripoli hospital three days ago. A source close to Megrahi said he was undergoing chemotherapy.

And the Scottish government lost a parliamentary vote over the release of Megrahi by 73 votes to 50 as opposition parties joined together to condemn the decision by the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) administration.

However, the move falls short of a vote of no-confidence in the government.

Brown met Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi in July, weeks before the Scottish decision to free Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am plane over Scotland which killed 270 people.

On Wednesday the British premier -- who underlined the strategic aim of bringing Libya back into the international fold -- stopped short of confirming that he had favoured releasing Megrahi from prison before his death.

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband acknowledged that London did not want the Libyan to die in Greenock prison, west of Glasgow, from where he was released on August 20.

"We did not want him to die in prison... we weren't seeking his death in prison," Miliband told BBC radio, in the first public admission of London's stance by a senior minister.

And he insisted: "There was no pressure from the British government on the Scots."

The fresh comments came nearly two weeks after Megrahi was released and was allowed to return to Libya because he is dying of prostate cancer and could have less than three months to live.

Megrahi, jailed for at least 27 years in 2001 over the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, served eight years of a life sentence before being released on August 20.

The Libyan's release -- and the hero's welcome he received on his return to Tripoli -- drew a furious US reaction, both from President Barack Obama's administration and families of the 189 US victims of the atrocity.

But Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond stood firm in a debate before the vote defeat, saying he was proud of the support for the decision within Scotland as well as from the Church of Scotland and Catholic leaders.

"And I am even prouder to have the support of (former South African president) Nelson Mandela, which indicates the respect for a Scottish judicial decision across this planet," he said.

The British premier insisted Megrahi's fate was not linked to strategic efforts to bring Libya back into the international fold, following its pariah status for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

"Our interest throughout has been to strengthen the coalition against international terrorism," but "there was never a linkage between any other issue and the Scottish government's decision about Megrahi's future," he said.

A former US Justice Department official warned that Britain's handling of the case would damage its ties with Washington for years.

"This will damage US relations with Britain for years to come," David Rivkin, who worked in the Reagan and Bush administrations, told BBC radio.

"This is the kind of duplicitous behaviour that most people here do not expect from Britain. I really can't think about a more duplicitous act by Britain vis-a-vis the United States in the post-war period."

Date created : 2009-09-03