Friday, 21 October 2011

Muammar Gaddafi | OBITUARY

Muammar Gaddafi was a tyrant and comic figure but few were laughing

Muammar Gaddafi
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had been described by Western commentators as deranged, eccentric and a caricature of an African dictator. Picture: AP Source: AP

OBITUARY: Muammar Gaddafi. Libyan dictator. Born near Sirte, June 7, 1942. Died Sirte, October 20, aged 69.

MUAMMAR Gaddafi cut a music-hall figure in his gaudy military uniform, but behind the comical facade lurked a brutal cynic who repressed Libya for 42 years. His barbarous instincts have been on display since February, when he unleashed his military to attack rebellious civilians inspired by regime-changing uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Described by Western commentators as deranged, eccentric and a caricature of an African dictator, there was nevertheless a certain method in Gaddafi's madness. It was a method that kept his enemies in check, or worse, and allowed him to rule, more or less by whim, for more than four decades. Gaddafi was born to a tribe of herders in a tent near Sirte, the town where he met his death. He attended primary school but completed his secondary education by private tutor in Misrata, the city he almost destroyed earlier this year.
Gaddafi entered the country's military academy at Benghazi in 1961 and graduated in 1966. It was there that he linked up with the Free Officers Movement, a group motivated to avenge Arab humiliation at the hands of Israel and determined to overthrow the Libyan monarchy.

On September 1, 1969, a group of young officers led by Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup against King Idris, who had gone to Turkey for medical treatment. The monarchy was abolished and Libya declared a republic. A British mercenary plan to restore the monarchy was shelved when the US decided Gaddafi was not a communist and therefore not a threat to US interests. He established extensive surveillance networks to spy on citizens. Political and social dissent were made illegal. Indeed, people were threatened with execution if they dared to form a political party. Dissidents were given public executions.

International goodwill towards Gaddafi quickly dissipated as he cultivated an anti-Western manner, a persona that found nationalist support among many Libyans. Isolated internationally, he became a rogue leader and sought to cause mischief and mayhem wherever possible. In the late 1970s he published his so-called political philosophy in The Green Book, a work that attracted mirth in the West but was required reading in Libya. He recast himself as the "Brother Leader" of the Libyan revolution and set about establishing himself as the world's most unpredictable dictator, at a time when there was a plentiful supply of them.

His behaviour throughout the 1970s and 80s was outrageous. He tried to get his hands on nuclear weapons from China, Pakistan and India. He tried to obtain chemical weapons and was reputed to have stockpiles of mustard gas. He used his diplomats to help assassinate opponents. Amnesty International has listed 25 such murders in the 80s. His assassins were particularly active in Britain, where many Libyan dissidents had sought refuge. In April 1984 shots were fired from the Libyan embassy in London, killing a policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, and wounding several anti-Gaddafi protesters. In retaliation, Britain cut off diplomatic relations. Relations were restored in 1999 after the Libyans accepted responsibility and paid Fletcher's family more than pound stg. 100,000 compensation.

Meanwhile Gaddafi was strutting the African stage with grandiose plans, including one for a united states of Africa. He pitched for a merger with Sudan, which prompted president Gaafar Nimeiry to say of the Libyan leader: "He has a split personality, both parts evil." He wanted a pan-Arab state; he wanted a pan-Islamic state; he wanted a federation of Arab states; he wanted to merge with Tunisia; he signed a treaty with Morocco that fell apart; and he created the Islamic Legion, which recruited widely and interfered in Chad and Darfur, where thousands died.

Gaddafi was a supporter of brutal Ugandan president Idi Amin and sent troops to help Amin fight against Tanzania. About 600 Libyan soldiers died in that episode, which ended when Amin's regime collapsed in 1979. Amin then found sanctuary in Libya. Gaddafi was a terrorist by proxy; he financed or encouraged terrorist activities in other countries through most of the 70s and 80s. He was a generous financier of the Black September Movement, responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and was accused by the US of being behind the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco that killed three and wounded more than 220, including many US military personnel.

During Ronald Reagan's presidency in 1981-89, tensions between Washington and Tripoli grew to breaking point. Reagan called Gaddafi the "mad dog of the Middle East" and regarded Libya as a rogue state because of its support for Palestinian independence and for Iran in its long war against Iraq. But Gaddafi's attitude to Palestine varied. In 1972, he said that Arabs wanting to fight with Palestinian terrorist groups could register their names with Libyan consular officials and would be given combat training. He also funded Palestinian terrorists.

In the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Gaddafi sent an armoured brigade and money to Egypt. But in 1995 he expelled 30,000 Palestinians because of peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO. In 1982, the US banned imports of Libyan oil and exports of US technology. It made no difference to Gaddafi, who continued his brazen anti-West policies. The US attacked Libyan patrol boats in 1986 and in April that year Reagan ordered bombing raids on Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for the Berlin disco bombing.

In 1987 a cargo ship was intercepted on its way to delivering arms and explosives to the Irish Republican Army. The British intelligence services believed it wasn't the first Libyan shipment to the IRA. Gaddafi also supported European terror groups the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades. Adding to his eccentric ways, he began surrounding himself with female bodyguards, a group of armed women in combat uniform who were supposed to be prepared to die for their leader.

Because of Gaddafi's taste for funding terrorism, Libya suffered sanctions and diplomatic isolation for most of the 90s. High on the list of crimes sheeted home to Libya was the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103, which exploded over the Scottish village of Lockerbie killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 on the ground.

Following efforts by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, in 1999 Gaddafi agreed to hand over Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah to stand trial in The Netherlands under Scottish law. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the 270 victims. In February this year Libya's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, said Gaddafi had personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.

Al-Megrahi was convicted of murder in 2001 and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland. Fhimah was found not guilty. Al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds in August 2009 when doctors diagnosed terminal cancer and said he had three months to live. It was a public relations coup for Gaddafi, and he and his son Saif al-Islam milked it. But Al-Megrahi is still alive two years later, a source of anger among the US relatives of the Lockerbie dead, and in Britain, where people think they were tricked into releasing him.

Whether it was a change of heart or by economic necessity, in the 90s Gaddafi began to co-operate with the West. He discontinued his nuclear weapons program, resulting in the lifting of UN sanctions in 2003. In Africa, he was widely regarded as a statesman who had pursued the interests of Africans, particularly for his generosity in helping poor sub-Saharan states. And he was among the first African or Muslim leaders to condemn al-Qa'ida, even before the September 11 atrocity. But his new approach of co-operating with the West on nuclear weapons was examined for ulterior motives.

It puzzled Westerners accustomed to his double-dealing. One explanation was that in the 90s Gaddafi realised he might be obliged to accept Western aid when oil prices dropped. Libya's wealth declined in that period. Indeed, Gaddafi squandered the nation's oil wealth throughout his dictatorship. Sanctions had taken their toll and Libya had become more and more isolated. An alternative explanation is that Gaddafi had experienced an epiphany: after all his years of ranting and persecution of opponents, he realised he had been misguided and that support among Arab nations was virtually nonexistent.

In 2003 Gaddafi said he would allow weapons inspectors to witness the dismantling of his nuclear weapons program. US president George W. Bush responded by saying Gaddafi was reacting to the US invasion of Iraq and the downfall of Saddam Hussein and wished to avoid the same fate. In March 2004, British prime minister Tony Blair visited Libya and was photographed embracing Gaddafi, a picture that came back to haunt Blair this year when it was clear Gaddafi was prepared to use extreme violence against civilians.

British ambassador Anthony Layden argued that 35 years of state control of the economy had "left them in a situation where they're simply not generating enough economic activity to give employment to the young people who are streaming through their successful education system. I think this dilemma goes to the heart of Colonel Gaddafi's decision that he needed a radical change of direction."

The US resumed diplomatic relations in 2006. On the rare occasions Australia came on to Gaddafi's radar it was for some cock-eyed plan such as his attempt to radicalise Aborigines and offer them paramilitary training. Left-wing unions were given Libyan money and Labor left-wing Victorian state secretary Bill Hartley was a loyal supporter. In 1987, Australia broke diplomatic relations because of Libyan activities in the South Pacific.The past nine months have seen Gaddafi under siege as rebels gained the ascendancy, with help from NATO airstrikes. He became gradually more demented in his denunciations of the "gangs" of "terrorists" who were battling to topple him.

But as Gaddafi's supporters deserted him, the rebels began to get on top, taking the capital, Tripoli, in August; they were beginning the reconstruction of the country as Gaddafi took refuge in his last stronghold.

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