Berlusconi to visit Libya amid Lockerbie protests | world | Hindustan Times
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Berlusconi to visit Libya amid Lockerbie protests

Premier Silvio Berlusconi's office said on Sunday he was going ahead with a trip to Libya next week despite international protests over the hero's welcome Tripoli staged for the freed Lockerbie bomber.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2009 19:04 IST

Premier Silvio Berlusconi's office said on Sunday he was going ahead with a trip to Libya next week despite international protests over the hero's welcome Tripoli staged for the freed Lockerbie bomber.

Berlusconi had long planned to meet with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi next Sunday to mark the first anniversary of an important immigration accord that has helped stem the tide of illegal migrants reaching Italian shores.

The premier's office confirmed the visit was going ahead despite outrage in London and Washington over the warm reception Libya gave to terminally ill Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was freed on Thursday by Scotland on compassionate grounds.

A flag-waving crowd of hundreds greeted al-Megrahi at Tripoli's airport, with some throwing flower petals on the only person convicted of killing 270 people in the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. Gadhafi embraced him and Gadhafi's son, who was on the flight escorting him home, raised al-Megrahi's hand in victory at the aircraft's door.

A Berlusconi ally, Margherita Boniver, said the premier will ask Gadhafi for an explanation of the hero's welcome when the two leaders meet Sunday.

"Certainly the coincidence of the visit and the debate over the festivities granted the author of the Lockerbie attack isn't a happy one," Boniver told Corriere della Sera. But she said Berlusconi would "find the right words to express how we feel about such a serious episode."

The United States and Britain have expressed outrage over the jubilant reception. While Washington has also said it objected to Scotland's decision to release al-Megrahi, British leaders have refrained from criticizing the decision, which was made in Edinburgh under Scotland's separate judicial system.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decided to release al-Megrahi because the Libyan is dying of prostate cancer and has been given only months to live. Compassionate leave for dying inmates is a regular feature of Scottish justice.