Western leaders have refrained from attending the elaborate celebration of Muammar Gaddafi’s 40 years leadership of Libya. A military parade comprising soldiers from several African countries has begun; Jets have flown over Tripoli, hundreds of performers are staging shows, and fireworks are in the air in what is the beginning of a week-long celebration.
Col. Gaddafi, who took over power through a coup d’état and has ruled the country for forty years after banning political parties, will be celebrated for six days. The celebration follows a political storm over the release from a Scottish prison of Libyan Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing. Several African and Arab leaders are attending the celebrations.
Western leaders have stayed away from Gaddafi’s lavish party for many reasons, but most evidently is the recent release of convicted bomber, al-Megrahi, freed by the Scottish authorities on 20 August after he had served eight years of a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, in which 270 people died.
Al- Megrahi’s welcome in Tripoli generated anger in the US and UK. For years, Libya was not accepted by Western democracies who accused the nation of fostering terrorism abroad and supporting various rebel groups in Africa. But after Libya paid hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to victims of the Lockerbie bombing, and renounced his pursuit of nuclear weapons, relations improved.
The parades which began on Tuesday witnessed low-flying helicopters trailing banners bearing the picture of Col Gaddafi, as theatrical musical performance took over the show until late at night when fireworks display were launched from ships anchored off the Tripoli coast. A lavish banquet dinner by the Mediterranean Sea followed the parade.