Lights are on, but nobody's in, insists regime receptionist

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Indy Politics

"There is nobody here," insisted the receptionist at the Libyan People's Bureau in Knightsbridge. Behind the drawn net curtains upstairs, grand chandeliers could be seen glowing in every room – and one diplomat kept peeking sheepishly at the growing press pack – and anti-Gaddafi protesters – outside. After a while he vanished, perhaps to pack his bags ahead of the embassy staff's expulsion by Britain's Foreign Office.

"The embassy is not receiving visitors this afternoon," chuckled one of the two policemen guarding the locked front doors. There are understood to be eight Libyan diplomats still in London, led by the Acting Charge d'affairs Khaled Benshaban.

He has been given until the weekend to clear his desk.

"I expect they are too busy doing a lot of shredding in there," said student Yamen Al Omrani, 32, who had arrived with friends to celebrate the decision by Foreign Secretary William Hague to kick out the Gaddafi regime's remaining representatives in the UK – and in the process recognise Libya's National Transitional Council.

More than 100 noisy Libyan supporters of the rebel fighters had gathered outside the embassy by mid-afternoon, singing in English and Arabic and waving the black, green and red Flag of the Libyan Republic, which has become the symbol of the rebel uprising.

The older generation stood in clusters exchanging tales of pre-Gaddafi Libya. Above the oak doors of the consulate, Gaddafi's green revolution flag hung limply. "This is the happiest day of my life," said Muftah Abdelsamad, 57, who fled Benghazi for Britain in 1976 and was among the group that stormed the embassy to raise the opposition flag in February this year. "Now all I want is to tear down that green flag and replace it with this one," he said.

The Libyan People's Bureau has stood on Knightsbridge since 1999, when it was moved from St James' Square. It was from that building in 1984 that a gunman opened fire at an anti-regime rally outside, killing police officer Yvonne Fletcher.

Jalal Shammam was standing behind Wpc Fletcher when the shooter, who has never been officially identified, sprayed bullets into the crowd, injuring him twice in the left leg.

"She was smiling before the shots rang out," he said. "That smile has haunted me for the last 28 years.

"We feel that Britain has at last woken up to Gaddafi's evil. It has been a long time coming."

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