Prince visit 'in doubt after Libya celebrations'

Friday 21 August 2009 18:15

A royal visit to Libya is under review after a hero's welcome for the return of the Lockerbie bomber, it was reported today.

The BBC reported that Britain was considering cancelling a visit due next month by Prince Andrew, who has visited the country several times in his role as a British trade ambassador.

The Prince's office said a visit for next month was in the planning stages and that Buckingham Palace was taking advice from the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office could not confirm whether the visit would go ahead.

It would be the first concrete sign that relations between the UK and Libya had been damaged by the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

The reports came as the Government reacted angrily to the triumphant homecoming which greeted Megrahi. Senior ministers said the scenes of flag-waving crowds which met Megrahi as he arrived at Tripoli Airport following his release on Thursday from a Scottish prison were "distasteful".

With the White House also describing the reception as "outrageous and incredibly offensive" there were indications that the regime was heeding their concerns. There was no sign of Megrahi in public today, and the scenes of his jubilant homecoming were not broadcast on Libyan television.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned the way the Libyan government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi acted over the next few days would be "very significant" in determining how the rest of the world treated the former pariah state.

"Obviously, the sight of a mass murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing, above all for the 270 families who grieve every day for the loss of their loved ones 21 years ago and also for anyone who has an ounce of humanity in them," he said.

"I think it's very important that Libya knows - and certainly we have told them - that how the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days after the arrival of Mr Megrahi will be very significant in the way the world views Libya's re-entry into the civilised community of nations."

Downing Street said earlier that Mr Brown had written a letter to Colonel Gaddafi asking that Libya "act with sensitivity" when the Lockerbie bomber was returned home yesterday - a plea which fell on deaf ears as Megrahi was greeted with a hero's welcome.

Number 10 said Foreign Secretary David Miliband had been expressing the views of the Government in condemning the scenes as "deeply distressing", but that the Prime Minister had made clear that the decision to release Megrahi was the Scottish Government's.

But Mr Cameron urged the Prime Minister to go further.

He wrote: "The scenes of him receiving a rapturous welcome at Tripoli airport on his return will have distressed many people.

"I note that Colonel Gaddafi's son has now publicly thanked not just the Scottish authorities but the British Government for its stance, raising questions about the British Government's role.

"You have not commented on the decision since it was announced yesterday. This morning your Foreign Secretary refused several requests to say what he thought of the Scottish Justice Secretary's decision.

"The fact that the decision to release was taken by the Scottish Justice Secretary does not preclude you, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, from now expressing your opinion on a subject that is of great public concern, and which affects Britain's international reputation and our relations with our allies."

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