Libyan welcome ‘inappropriate’
Cheers greet bomber’s homecoming
LONDON: British politicians yesterday condemned celebrations in Tripoli on the return of the Lockerbie bomber, scrambling to deflect any international political fallout from a decision to free him on humanitarian grounds.
“The sight of a mass murderer getting a hero’s welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing, above all for the 270 families who grieve every day for the loss of their loved ones 21 years ago,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told BBC Radio.
“How the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days will be very significant in the way the world views Libya’s re-entry into the civilised community of nations,” he added.
Former Libyan agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was serving a life sentence as the only person convicted of bombing flight Pan Am 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The bombing killed 270 people, many of them American.
Washington described the release as a mistake.
Frank Duggan, president of Victims of Pan Am 103, a group representing families of US victims, said he understood that Libya had promised that Megrahi would not “go back to a hero’s welcome”.
More than 1 000 young Libyans gathered at an airport in Tripoli to welcome Megrahi, and cheered and waved national flags as his car sped away. Large public gatherings are rare in Libya.
State media had made no mention of Megrahi’s possible return, but a newspaper close to leader Muammar Gaddafi’s reformist son, Saif al-Islam, was following his progress.
Islam, who accompanied Megrahi back to Libya, had promised last year to work for Megrahi’s release.
The crowd that greeted them at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport, a former US air base, were mostly members of Libya’s National Youth Association, which is close to Islam.
Some had speculated that Megrahi would address thousands at a night-time rally in Tripoli’s landmark Green Square to mark Libyan Youth Day, but he made no public appearance after leaving the airport.
Alex Salmond, head of the devolved Scottish government, condemned the celebrations.
“I don’t think the reception for Mr al-Megrahi was appropriate in Libya,” he said.
Miliband dismissed claims that the British government had wanted Megrahi to be freed to bolster diplomatic and commercial ties with Libya, and was content to let the Scottish authorities take the blame for an unpopular decision. Scotland has its own legal system. Its government has broad autonomy on justice issues.
British oil company BP ended a 30-year absence from Libya in 2007. Royal Dutch Shell also wants to tap Libya’s reserves, the biggest in Africa. – Reuters
HERO’S RETURN: Abdel Basset al-Megrahi is hugged by Saif al-Islam el-Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi.