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Homeless Gaddafi forced to rough it in embassy quarters

Autograph hunters should try to get close to the red carpet if they want a token to remember from Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, arguably the most talked-about of all the heads of state who are due to arrive in New York for the annual gab-fest that is the UN General Assembly today.

That would not be the red carpet rolled out from the main entrance of the UN building on First Avenue – the whole area is off limits to tourists – but the one carefully draping the steps to the Libyan Mission on East 48th Street. You are bound to see Colonel Gaddafi at some point, because he will be sleeping there.

This is not quite what the Libyan leader, who is on his first ever visit to UN HQ and indeed to the United States, was expecting. But nothing has been more trying for his diplomatic representatives here than finding the proper accommodation for the Libyan leader to lay his head.

The truth is, no one in America seems very happy to have him sleeping close to hand. That is especially true after the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi from prison in Scotland on humanitarian grounds, the only person convicted over the Pan-Am bombing over Lockerbie.

So when it emerged that Colonel Gaddafi would be pitching his tent in the garden of a Libyan-owned mansion in Englewood, a smart suburb across the Hudson in New Jersey, the residents there rebelled so noisily that the plan had to be scrapped. The folk who run New York City had already scotched the alternative of erecting the presidential tent somewhere in Central Park.

Then it seemed that Colonel Gaddafi had secured the three lower floors of the very posh (and pricey) Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue across from The Plaza. It had to be lower floors because he will not use a lift. But on the eve of his arrival word emerged that the Pierre had had a change of heart too, prompted by other guests paying large amounts for their rooms who had no desire to rub shoulders with the Libyan leader.

And so it is that he will be bedding down in the Libyan mission, which does not afford the same luxuries at all, even though employees were spotted hauling new pieces of bubble-wrapped furniture into its lobby over the weekend. With as many as 150 people in Colonel Gaddafi's entourage, including his famed squad of armed, female bodyguards, the not very distinguished building will be bursting at the seams.