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Gaddafi: 40 years of the riddle of the sands

RIA Novosti

14:08 21/02/2011

MOSCOW, February 21 (RIA Novosti) - Muammar Gaddafi has ruled Libya for over 40 years in a unique, sometimes eccentric style, hallmarked by his penchant for safari suits, sunglasses, Bedouin tents, rambling speeches and a 40-member all-female bodyguard detail.

The Arab world's longest serving leader came to power in a bloodless coup on September 1, 1969, deposing King Idris al-Senussi and proclaiming a Libyan republic.

In 1977, Gaddafi renamed his country the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which translates to "the state of the masses," but he still rules through opaque decision-making and nepotism with his sons playing leading roles.

Libya has no political parties, as according to Gaddafi, the "party system is an abortion of democracy." There is no hired labor, because this is a "form of slavery." There is no administration, but there are people's committees similar to people's commissariats in the former USSR.

He has maintained tight control over dissidents, including Islamists, using "purging committees" to keep them in check.

In the 1980s, Gaddafi sent hit squads to murder exiled "stray dogs" who challenged the revolution. Islamist rebels at home were crushed in the 1990s.

He has spent billions of dollars from oil revenues to improve living standards, making him a popular figure with the "masses."

However, the fiery revolutionary, Gaddafi has also used the oil incomes to fight "imperialism" throughout the world.

Gaddafi was believed to be a major financier of the Black September Movement that perpetrated the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, and was accused of being behind the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 200, a significant number of whom were U.S. servicemen.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan called him a "mad dog" and sent warplanes to bomb Libya in response later that year, killing 60 people, including Gaddafi's adopted daughter.

Libya also sponsored rebel movements across Africa, including the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, and anti-government rebels in Chad, which gained the country a long list of enemies.

In 1992, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Tripoli to pressure it to hand over two Libyan suspects in the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people were killed.

The war in Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime caused many Arab leaders to think again about how easily they could be deposed at the whim of the United States. Muammar Gaddafi quickly learned the lessons of Iraq and revised his anti-Western policy.

He abandoned his country's covert nuclear weapons program and invited IAEA inspectors to visit the country's nuclear center in Tadjoura. In addition, without admitting Libya's guilt, Gaddafi agreed to pay compensation to the Lockerbie victims' families - $10 million for each of the 270 casualties.

In 2004, the U.S. lifted the economic embargo on Libya, and in 2006, the White House removed Libya from the list of states sponsoring international terrorism.

The recent uprisings in neighboring countries do not appear to have shaken his resolve to stay in power. He sent messages of support to Tunisia's Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak before they stepped down.

Gaddafi remains defiant despite the protests in Libya that started on February 15, following other violent anti-government demonstrations across the Middle East, and has indicated he will not step down voluntarily.

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