Libya’s Prime Minister, Shukri Ghanem, has claimed that his country played no part in either the Lockerbie bombing or the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in London in 1984.
Mr Ghanem insisted that there’s no real evidence to prove that Libya was behind either act and his government’s offer to pay compensation was made merely to “buy peace” with the west.
His comments come at a time when relations between Libya and Britain are at their closest for decades following Tripoli’s
decision to renounce it’s weapons of mass destruction last December.
Earlier this month on a high profile visit to London Libya’s Foreign Minister, Abdulrahman Shalgam, assured Britain’s
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that his government would offer “enhanced co-operation” in efforts to find the killer of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. This followed long running concerns that Libya failed to fully investigate the shooting.
It’s long beenthought that the shot that killed Yvonne came from inside the Libyan Embassy. But, Mr Ghanem told the BBC that there’s no evidence to support this claim and he considers the Fletcher case to be closed.
The Libyan Prime Minister also denies that his government had any links with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 which cost 270 lives.
Pressed on why his government has offered to pay $10 million dollars compensation to each of the victim’s families he insisted that this was merely an effort to “buy peace” following years of crippling economic sanctions and was no admission of guilt.
The face of Colonel Gadaffi stares down at you from billboards wherever you go in Tripoli. But 34 years on, is he still the man in charge as his nation undergoes a new revolution?
Libyan TV has been covering the latest in a series of visits by International weapons inspectors. Yet just six months ago their presence would have been hardly imaginable. In a souke café I asked local people what they thought of this latest revolution in Libyan politics.
“We’ve been waiting for this for decades. It’s wonderful. It will help us avoid starvation, to avoid a war,” says one man..
Although hardly visible through the pipe smoke, customers in this bustling café in Tripoli’s old town had clear views on one thing. It’s best to make friends with the West.
“Libya should have done this 5 years ago, make friends with famous countries like America and Britain. Though it’s important that we don’t become colonies of these countries,” says another customer.
But when I asked whether Colonel Gadafi was right to give up Weapons of Mass Destruction, the fug returns.
“I don’t believe there were ever any WMD's to give up. It’s impossible that they could have existed.”
Ever since Colonel Gaddafi came to power in 1969 it’s been almost as hard for locals to guess what’s really going on as for the world outside. According to the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the country has been secretly meddling with sinister weaponry since the early 1980’s. Now, just as mysteriously, we learn that it’s giving them all up. Has the Colonel lost his revolutionary zeal or was this latest u-turn in policy more a case of losing his grip on the reins of power?
Dr Ali Farfer, goes by the weighty title of ‘Secretary of the People’s Committee for the General Institution of the Mass Media’. He has a big say in how and when the Colonel is seen by the world. He insists that, contrary to popular belief, the Colonel is merely The Guide to the Peoples Revolution. And is more adviserthan dictator:
“He’s a mentor, a person who gives advice, and teaches people about certain things. He can alert people, but he’s not in a position to take decisions for people.”
So it must have been the people not their guide, who closed down a Tripoli newspaper for a week recently after it dared to criticise their mentor’s policies. Here, there is no opposition party to complain, because this is democracy, Gadaffi style.
So finding out what ordinary people on the streets of Tripoli really think or know about their leaders’ role in shaping their future is hard to tell. Mainly because freedom of speech here, especially when it’s critical of the government, can prove very costly. But some people, like a shopkeeper I met, are prepared to speak out.
“Things are very slow, I have to admit it’s not good. There are people here who have not been paid for 6 months. The problem is the Colonel. This is the 3rd largest country with oil reserves, and yet we’ve been begging in the streets.”
But as he was happy to tell me all this, so had things improved?
“Four years ago, if I had publicly said this, the consequences would be very bad. I wouldn’t have gone to prison, I would simply have disappeared. It’s a little better now, but we’re still not free to publicly criticise the government.”
A short taxi ride away, in a quieter more leafy area of central Tripoli lays the freshly renovated British Embassy. Ambassador Anthony Layden believes the Colonel’s decision on WMD has more to do with pragmatism and self-survival than any wars in Iraq, or new found friends in the West:.
“35 years of total state control of the economy has 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 Gadafi’s decision that he needed a radical change of direction.”
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