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Libya celebrates 40th Anniversary in style

Libya staged a lavish spectacle Tuesday, parading white-robed horsemen and gold-turbaned dancers as jets streaked overhead to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought Moammar Gadhafi to power in the oil-rich nation.

Nomadic Tuaregs looks at hot air balloons flying over the desert of Ghadames, western Libya as part of celebrations marking the 40th Anniversary of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s regime. AFP

 Moammar Gadhafi

The four-day festivities were designed to highlight the volatile leader's acceptance on the world stage, but were overshadowed by new controversies about the return of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. While African leaders held a summit to coincide with the celebrations, most Western leaders stayed away.

The Libyan Leader, known for his outlandish outfits and penchant for conducting state business in tents, started the celebrations before dawn Tuesday, timed to coincide with the start of the coup, with a feast at a former U.S. air base that was later turned into a Libyan military camp.

Addressing the audience, Gadhafi said that as a young Libyan lieutenant he'd been barred from entering the base by an American soldier.

"I told the soldier: 'You'll see what the future has in store,'" said Gadhafi. "I don't think the American soldier quite measured the scope of my words."

The return home of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, overshadowed the celebrations. Scottish officials released him Aug. 20 on compassionate grounds because doctors said he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had only three months to live. But his release and warm homecoming in Libya outraged many of the victims' families and US officials.

Libya's decision to include a video clip during the anniversary celebration show of al-Megrahi stepping off the plane from Scotland to roaring cheers could stoke even more anger. The segment, which lasted only a few seconds, came at the end of a video presentation chronicling Gadhafi's accomplishments since the 1969 coup. Intense public pressure over al-Megrahi's release has sent the British and Scottish governments scrambling to respond. On Tuesday, both governments made public their correspondence on his release showing some British officials advised Scotland's government that there were no legal obstacles to returning al-Megrahi to Libya.

Other documents showed British Justice Secretary Jack Straw initially believed al-Megrahi should be excluded from a prisoner transfer agreement signed between the UK and Libya, but later changed his mind - saying he did not wish to damage the "beneficial relationship" between the two countries.

"Developing a strong relationship with Libya, and helping it to reintegrate into the international community, is good for the UK," Straw said in that letter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.

"Libya is one of only two countries to have ever voluntarily and transparently dismantled its weapons of mass destruction program. Having sponsored terrorist attacks in the past, it is now an important partner in the fight against terrorism."

The Lockerbie controversy was not the only one dogging the celebrations.

In a sign of how tightly the government was trying to control the festivities, Italy said Libya wanted an Italian air force acrobatic team flying over Tripoli to only emit green smoke - a color Gadhafi associates with his regime.

Italy threatened to ground the planes, and, in a victory for the former colonial ruler, when the jets did fly Tuesday night, they emitted their traditional red, white and green colors of the Italian flag.

Rome has maintained generally good relations with Gadhafi, and Libya is a major supplier of gas and oil to Italy, Libya's former colonial ruler. Italian Premier Silvia Berlusconi met with Gadhafi in Libya on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of a friendship treaty with Tripoli.

Gadhafi, 67, has courted many controversies during his rule. He toppled Libya's king in a largely bloodless coup on Sept. 1, 1969, and has been at the helm of the North African country ever since, sometimes referred to as "The Guide," or more frequently "Brother Leader." The son of modest desert Bedouins, Gadhafi was a 27-year-old army captain when he led a group of young officers to power. After the coup, Gadhafi nationalized most of the American and other Western assets in Libya, fast souring relations with much of the outside world. AFP



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