Gaddafi's forty years in power celebrated with a 'gallery of grotesques'

War crimes suspect and notorious Somali pirate turn out for anniversary party

The celebrations marking Colonel Gaddafi's 40th anniversary as Libya's dictator lit up the Tripoli sky last night as a number of international pariahs, described by one diplomat as a "gallery of grotesques", gathered to enjoy a lavish parade, dance spectacles and fighter jets streaking overhead.

The celebration was meant to be the crowning act in Gaddafi's rehabilitation on the international stage, but the Libyan leader's respectability, already undermined by the controversy raging over the release of the only convicted Lockerbie bomber, was further eroded by accusations that a notorious Somali pirate leader was among the VIPs in attendance.

Mohammed Abdi Afweyne, a confessed leader of one of the largest pirate gangs that has been terrorising shipping off the Horn of Africa, has been in Tripoli since Saturday, according to sources in Somalia.

Government sources refused to confirm or deny the presence of Afweyne, the leader of a gang of hijackers that seized control of the MV Faina, a Ukrainian cargo ship loaded with tanks and heavy weapons. Reports also suggest that Afweyne had met with senior Libyan officials.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese ruler who is indicted for war crimes in Darfur, were among those enjoying the party which was expected to go on until dawn.

The only European leader to accept an invitation to the opening of the week-long extravaganza marking the Libyan leader's 40 years in power was the Maltese President George Abela. France and Italy were represented at ministerial level while Britain attempted to distance itself by sending an embassy chargé d'affaires, Mark Matthews. The British Government has been deeply embarrassed by repeated accusations that it traded the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber in return for Libyan oil and gas. Britain's ambassador to Libya, Vincent Fean, took the opportunity to visit Malta instead of staying for the party, while in private British diplomats were said to be deeply concerned with the content of last night's show.

As dozens of world leaders were seated behind bulletproof glass to watch the festivities, only Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez broke away from the heavy security to joke with reporters.

European diplomatic sensitivities were best illustrated by a heated last-minute row over the colour of smoke in a planned aerobatics display.

The Italian equivalent of Britain's Red Arrows refused to use exclusively Libyan (and Islamic) green smoke as requested by the hosts. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the jets would not be allowed to take off if they were were not permitted to emit the red, white and green of the Tricolore – Italy's national colours.

Even Mr Berlusconi, often breezily undiplomatic, retreated from Tripoli on Sunday in the face of international criticism of the Libyan leader.

Col. Gaddafi's propensity for embarrassing Western governments, displayed last week by the welcome accorded the released Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, has complicated an occasion meant to mark Libya's return from the international wilderness. The presence of the notorious Somali Afweyne will also raise questions over whether the 67-year-old leader is now sponsoring pirate groups. Col. Gaddafi has used his position as chairman of the African Union (AU) to defend the hijackers who have been involved in a record surge of piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden over the last two years.

Addressing the AU in May, he said piracy was: "a response to greedy Western nations, who invade and exploit Somalia's water resources illegally". "It is not a piracy, it is self defence," he went on. "It is defending the Somalia children's food."

However, Afweyne has previously been behind the hijacking of a cargo ship carrying food relief for those same Somali children that Col. Gaddafi spoke of.

Afweyne is a former warlord sometimes referred to as the father of piracy off the coast of Somalia whose group was behind the capture and ransoming of a World Food Programme vessel carrying emergency aid, the MV Semlow, in 2005.

Until 2006 he headed up a band of Somali pirates based in the city of Haradhere that called themselves the Defenders of Somali Territorial Waters. That group was disbanded by the fledgling authority in Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union, which was toppled by a Ethiopian invasion later in the same year backed by the United States. More recently he has been spotted in Hargeisa, the capital of breakaway Somaliland, and is believed to be involved in ransom negotiations for at least one ship still being held off the coast of Somalia.

The Libyan leader, who is expected to speak later this month at the United Nations General Assembly, was officially removed from the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006, but US government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have since compared acts of Somali piracy with acts of terrorism.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Libyan regime was involved in arming rebel movements in West Africa, Basque separatists in Spain and the IRA, among others. This led in 1991 to diplomatic isolation and an international wall of sanctions that lasted for more than a decade.

The presence of the pirate leader came as the Philippine President Gloria Arroyo offered, in Tripoli, to help fund and train a Somali coastguard.

Afweyne, along with the majority of Somali pirates, has repeatedly claimed to be acting as a de facto Somali coastguard while a number of Somali groups have been seeking sponsorship to rebrand themselves as coastguards. Since the collapse of the central government in Somalia in 1991 the coast has been targeted by illegal fishing trawlers and toxic dumping operations that have damaged coastal fisheries.

President Arroyo, in Libya attending the African Union summit staged to bolster the VIP ranks ahead of last night's party, met with Somali leader Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed on the sidelines of the AU gathering.

'Dying' bomber: Questions over Megrahi's health

There was confusion last night over the health of the released Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi after new claims from the Libyan government that he was close to death.

Tripoli's propaganda chief, Majid al-Dursi, told the Associated Press: "Only God knows when it will be over. He is dying now." Megrahi did not attend Monday's rehearsals for the celebrations of Colonel Gaddafi's 40th anniversary as dictator, appearing instead on video screens, but there has been no independent confirmation of his condition. Officials told The Independent there was no update on his well-being and could not confirm if he was still in hospital.

Daniel Howden

Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
people'Bring It On' actress says her legal team will combat the 'vultures'
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam