Gaddafi comes in from the cold

NELSON MANDELA is set to use his last few days as president of South Africa to ease the return into the diplomatic mainstream of his long-time friend, the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

Allegations of Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie air disaster and other terrorist incidents have seen the country branded as a pariah nation, a reputation which it is only now beginning to shake off.

Col. Gaddafi will visit South Africa, his first foreign trip since sanctions were lifted, apart from a short trip to neighbouring Egypt. President Mandela, who will hand power to Thabo Mbeki on 16 June, said he expected Col. Gaddafi to visit within the next 10 days.

Long-ostracised by the West, which has blamed him for sponsoring international terrorism, the Libyan leader is expected to attend the inauguration, along with African leaders and the British deputy prime minister, John Prescott, en route to a major summit in Zambia aimed at ending the 10-month-old war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

President Mandela, who was instrumental to the April handover to the Dutch authorities of two Libyan suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, had lunch with Gaddafi's wife and two of the couple's daughters. He reiterated his gratitude for Libya's support to the ANC in its fight against apartheid, adding: "Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go and jump in a pool." During Libya's time as a pariah state - which formally ended in April with the scrapping of the air embargo against the north African country - President Mandela, 80, frequently irritated Western diplomats by restating his fondness for the Libyan dictator.

President Mandela's appearance yesterday was his first since voting last Wednesday. Even though not all 16 million votes have been verified, it appears that the ANC will fall between one and five seats short of a two-thirds majority in the national assembly. With two-thirds of seats (66.6pc) , the ANC government would be able to change some clauses in the constitution, though fundamental alterations require the endorsement of 75 per cent of the national assembly's 400 MPs. President Mandela said: "Concern that a two-thirds majority will be abused by the ANC flies in the face of the facts of history. No one can say we abused our majority.''

In the provincial election in KwaZulu-Natal, the Inkatha Freedom Party appeared to have pulled ahead of the ANC, giving its leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi added leverage in his campaign to become national deputy president.

Last night, the ANC's score stood at 66.4 per cent and the runner-up looked set to be the Democratic Party, on 9.57pc. Nationally, the IFP stood on 8.53pc, followed by the NNP - the old aparthied party - on 6.9pc.

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