To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
23 Aug 2009 08:08
The Libyan leader, Moammar Gadaffi, has defied pressure from the US and Britain by meeting the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
Television footage of the meeting showed the pair embracing and speaking, with the Libyan leader also meeting members of the freed bomber’s family.
The Libyan news agency Jana reportedly quoted Gadaffi congratulating the Scottish authorities for “their courage and for having proved their independence despite the unacceptable and unreasonable pressures they faced”.
The White House has already vented its fury over the triumphalist scenes greeting his homecoming at Tripoli airport, describing them as “outrageous and disgusting”. Gaddafi’s decision to meet al-Megrahi is likely to increase the international controversy over his release.
The growing anger on both sides of the Atlantic at the decision of the Scottish government to free the man convicted of the murder of 270 people as a result of the attack on Pan Am flight 103 has seen the British government attempt to distance itself from the decision.
Downing Street confirmed that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had written to Gadaffi, calling on Libya to “act with sensitivity” and to ensure a “low-key return” for al-Megrahi.
But hours after Britain sent the letter, al-Megrahi was cheered by hundreds of supporters, some waving Scottish flags, as he landed at Tripoli airport accompanied by Gadaffi’s son.
On Saturday night the Foreign Office was forced to deny Libyan claims that al-Megrahi’s release was linked to trade deals, saying: “There is no deal. All decisions relating to the Megrahi case have been made exclusively by Scottish ministers, the Crown Office in Scotland and the Scottish judicial authorities. No deal has been made between the UK government and Libya in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interests in the country.”
The White House condemned the scenes at Tripoli airport in unusually undiplomatic language. Robert Gibbs, Barack Obama’s spokesperson, said: “I think the images that we saw in Libya yesterday were outrageous and disgusting. We continue to express our condolences to the families that lost a loved one as a result of this terrorist murder.”
In an interview from his home in Tripoli on Saturday, al-Megrahi denied he or Libya itself were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. He said that before he died he would present fresh evidence through his Scottish lawyers that would exonerate him. “My message to the British and Scottish communities is that I will put out the evidence and ask them to be the jury,” he told the Times, declining to elaborate.
Obama described the scenes at Tripoli airport as “highly objectionable” and the White House warned the Libyan government that it risked a rift between the two countries if there was any repetition of the hero’s welcome for al-Megrahi. Gibbs said the US would be watching what happens next. Washington wants al-Megrahi held under house arrest. Part of the US anger is because Obama had also asked Libya not to award al-Megrahi a hero’s welcome.
Downing Street was also irritated. Sir Vincent Fean, the British ambassador to Tripoli, delivered Brown’s letter to the Libyan prime minister an hour after al-Megrahi’s plane left Glasgow airport.
British government sources said they were “not over the moon” about the celebrations but accepted Libyan explanations that it had not been an official demonstration and that security officials had turned away crowds.
Describing the scenes at the airport as “deeply upsetting”, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said: “I think it’s very important that Libya knows—and certainly we have told them—that how the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days after the arrival of Mr Megrahi will be very significant in the way the world views Libya’s re-entry into the civilised community of nations.”
In a sign that relations have been damaged, British government sources indicated on Saturday night that it was highly unlikely the Duke of York would attend ceremonies next month to mark the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution that brought Gadaffi to power. No formal invitation has been sent, but the duke, Britain’s official trade envoy, had been expected to attend the event as part of the growing trade relationship with Libya.
The Scottish government is planning to defend its decision. Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary, who released al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he has terminal prostate cancer, is expected to criticise London’s conduct when the Scottish Parliament meets in emergency session on Monday.
MacAskill is said to be furious with the British government for refusing to take part in his consultations over the release. SNP sources have said they believe Brown ordered ministers not to take part so that London could distance itself from the decision.
The British government refused to answer in detail a letter from MacAskill after the US authorities told him that London had given an assurance al-Megrahi would always serve his sentence in Scotland. MacAskill has said London’s failure to answer this question was one reason he could not transfer al-Megrahi to a prison in Libya. - guardian.co.uk
Create Account | Lost Your Password?