Gaddafi marks 40 years in power | world | Hindustan Times
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Gaddafi marks 40 years in power

Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi fetes the 40th anniversary of the bloodless coup that brought him to power on Tuesday, with his influence growing in Africa and ties improved with the West.

world Updated: Sep 01, 2009 15:36 IST

Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi fetes the 40th anniversary of the bloodless coup that brought him to power on Tuesday, with his influence growing in Africa and ties improved with the West.

But delayed promises to forge ahead with political and economic reforms in the oil-rich African nation are still lagging despite ambitious plans which have the backing of his second son and heir apparent Seif al-Islam.

Gaddafi, who once described himself as "leader of the Arab leaders, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of the Muslims," is throwing a party to be attended by some world leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But a string of European leaders are shunning the gala events that will include a military parade, air show, fireworks and a son-et-lumiere performance with dancers depicting Libya's past and modern history.

Tripoli's streets have been decked with thousands of multicoloured lights, and hundreds of Kadhafi portraits and placards paying tribute to the leader, including one saying: "May Glory Be Yours, Oh Maker of Glories."

The festivities come as Libya is fending off Western fury at the hero's welcome it gave convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi after his release from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds on August 20.

Libya ignored US warnings that any public celebration would damage relations that have been improving since Tripoli renounced its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

Critics in London charge that Megrahi's release was linked to oil contracts in Libya -- despite British denials -- and The Sunday Times reported that the government had decided two years ago that it was in the country's "overwhelming interest" to free him.

Seif al-Islam, who accompanied Megrahi home and whose charitable foundation financed his legal defence, has dismissed the criticism.

"Lockerbie is history," Seif al-Islam told the Scottish newspaper The Herald about the mid-air bombing of a Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 that killed 270 people.

"The next step is fruitful and productive business with Edinburgh and London. Libya is a promising, rich market and so let's talk about the future."

The 37-year-old has been pushing for ambitious political and economic reforms in Libya, where huge oil reserves, tourist destinations and economic development remain largely untapped amid alleged rampant corruption.

"Where does the oil money go?" Kadhafi asked recently, pledging to lead "a revolution against corruption" by closing ministries and distributing the money directly to the people, although he has yet to act on his decision.

Seif al-Islam has lambasted "a civil servants' mafia," whom he accuses of opposing reforms.

He and his allies want to see a constitution drawn up, the privatisation of the state-controlled media and a 70-billion-dollar economic development package.

The International Monetary Fund said in a recent report it is "crucial" for Libya to strengthen the management of public finances and "improve the legal and administrative framework governing the state budget."

But the old guard in Libya, where Gaddafi set up a "Jamahiriya" or state of the masses in 1977, are unenthusiastic about reform.

On the eve of the anniversary of the coup that overthrew Western-backed King Idriss, the Libyan leader hosted a summit of the 53-member African Union, of which he was elected chairman in February.

Gaddafi, crowned "king of kings" by African traditional leaders in September last year, was recently praised by US envoy to Sudan Scott Gration for his role in peacemaking in Darfur -- a main topic on the summit's agenda.

The flamboyant Gaddafi also marked his latest diplomatic victory when he received Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday to celebrate the first anniversay of a friendship treaty with the former colonial power.

The pair also set the foundation stone for a 1,200 kilometre (750 mile) coastal highway to be paid for by Italy as compensation for alleged imperial exactions.