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Libya limbo

Andrew Harding | 12:31 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011

Decades in the Libyan diplomatic corps have taught Abdullah Abdussalam Alzubeidi the fine art of discretion.

"To speak out and survive has not been easy," he said, still weighing his words carefully at a news conference in Pretoria.

Mr Alzubeidi has been a fixture in South Africa since 1995. He's the longest-serving ambassador here and the "Dean" of the diplomatic circuit.

But this morning, he emerged from the shadows of tact and protocol to denounce Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and to insist, "we should now fear nobody".

You could tell it wasn't easy. Mr Alzubeidi initially suggested merely that Col Gaddafi should "consider the interests of the country". After a little prompting, he acknowledged that he was calling on him "to resign".

One journalist - hunting for a meatier sound bite - suggested the ambassador might be "disgusted" by the colonel's recent behaviour. Mr Alzubeidi, urbane to a fault, seemed to shudder like a gentleman whose tailor has suggested brown shoes with pinstripes.
So would the ambassador himself step down? He had considered that option, he said, but decided his priority was to serve the many Libyan citizens who depended on the embassy for support. Besides - "to whom" should he offer his resignation? It's a reasonable question and Mr Alzubeidi implied that other Libyan ambassadors who had publically quit had really done no such thing. "The others just said it," he explained.

Mr Alzubeidi seemed reluctant to explore his own complicity in the regime that he was now ready to reject. "Diplomats are like soldiers," he said, quickly denying any knowledge of arms sales, or mercenaries, or much else to do with Gaddafi's government. But he acknowledged that "many of us should not have served" and - while admitting to "constant self-censorship" - hinted that he had tried "in our own private ways" to criticise the regime before.

For now, then, the Libyan mission here will remain open and in a state of limbo - unfunded, answering to no government, and waiting for "the leadership to take the right decisions".

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