Gaddafi's 40th turns into a diplomatic minefield

Europe's leaders are staying away in droves but nothing will halt Libya's biggest party, writes Daniel Howden in Tripoli

Britain has refused to reveal who it will send to the biggest party in Libya's history, a celebration of the rise to power of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in a coup d'etat 40 years ago.

With London desperate to avoid further embarrassment in the wake of allegations that it supported the release of the Lockerbie bomber in return for trade deals, no decision had been made about who would represent the UK at the lavish and potentially controversial carnival in Tripoli.

Officials refused to "speculate" who London would send after evidence emerged that the Justice Secretary Jack Straw had sent a letter to his Scottish counterpart two years ago saying it was in the UK's "overwhelming interest" to include the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in a mooted prisoner release programme.

A week of events on a grand scale kicks off tonight in Tripoli with a massive equestrian display at the same military airport where Megrahi was given a hero's welcome after his release on compassionate grounds by the Scottish authorities.

Although the precise details of what will happen at the celebrations have been kept secret, the released prisoner is not expected to attend. Megrahi was reported to be on his death bed last night at a Tripoli hospital. He is now "too sick" to answer questions, according to his family.

Suffering from advanced prostate cancer, he was pictured by Channel 4 News wearing an oxygen mask and attached to a drip after being taken to the hospital yesterday morning.

With 24 hours to go, Tripoli has taken on the frenetic aspect of a city hosting the Olympics. Scaffolding covers the main avenues as lakes of whitewash are slapped on to exposed concrete in last-minute sprucing efforts.

Thousands of people were caught out as the capital's entire central district – which now contains what is claimed to be the largest stage in the world – was fenced off without warning. Frantic Libyans were seen crawling under the fence to get home, while others passed packages and even children to each other under the wire.

Looking down on them and staring from banners everywhere was the face of Africa's longest-serving leader, with his gaze fixed on the future in a way that suggested his determination to keep going for another 40 years. With roads sealed, the din of motorists' horns was only drowned by the deafening roar from rehearsing French and Italian aerobatic jet fighters.

The diplomatic fall-out from Megrahi's release and reception has cast a shadow over the epic anniversary party. Italy's Silvio Berlusconi will be the only EU leader prepared to lend his public backing to Colonel Gaddafi with a one-day visit to Tripoli yesterday. And even the Italian premier, whose excuse for the trip was the anniversary of a friendship accord, said he would leave before the party began.

With a host of controversial African leaders from Zimbabwe's pariah Robert Mugabe to Sudan's indicted Omar al-Bashir due to be joined by the likes of Venezuela's showman President Hugo Chavez, wary Western leaders have withdrawn from what is seen as Libya's international coming-out party.

The self-styled "brother leader" was taking no chances with the bulk of his VIP guest list and staged an extraordinary African Union summit to coincide with the event, guaranteeing the presence of many African leaders.

The money-no-object show continues tomorrow with a military parade which should see military divers climbing out of the Mediterranean to join tanks, fighter jets and troop formations in Libya's answer to May Day in Red Square. For the 700,000 or more who make it into the fenced-off Green Square, a three-hour spectacular on Libyan history awaits from a multinational troupe directed by the French director Martin Arnaud.

With a a staggering arsenal of fireworks due to be set off over the seafront, the official programme predicts that "the Libyan people will be enflamed by the Brother Leader" – cue another of Colonel Gaddafi's marathon speeches.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Manager

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a white-ha...

Recruitment Genius: Operations and Administration Support Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Solar P...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Specialist

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation is changing the way at...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Web Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Web Designer is required to join a f...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor