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Home > World

The world vs. Colonel Gaddafi: What's their beef?

Colonel Gaddafi Qadhafi Gathathi Kaddafi is one of the world's most instantly recognisable leaders - but also one of the most enigmatic. And not just because his multiple surname spellings make him virtually impossible to Google.

So, in an attempt to fill in a few of the Kaps in our Qnowlege, TFT presents a handy guide to everyone's favourite despot who came in from the cold...

21 December 2003

Born in 1942 into a nomadic family, Muammar Gaddafi was never one for marching. He was enrolled in military academy in 1963 and, bored of trudging up and down the parade ground, formed a revolutionary group called the Free Officers Movement. In 1969, the group - consisting of Gaddafi and seventy of his friends - launched a coup d'état to overthrow the Libyan monarchy. The coup had the support of the army and the people of Libya and lasted less than two hours, with hardly a shot fired.

Who's Got What?
Number of active nuclear warheads...

(1) USA - 12,070
(2) Russia - 10,240
(3) France - 510
(4) China - 425
(5) Britain - 400
(6) India - 250
(7) Israel - 100
(8) Pakistan - 15
(9) Iran - 0.5
(10=) Libya - 0
(10=) Iraq - 0

Once the smoke had cleared, Gaddafi and his friends were in charge.

Gaddafi immediately promoted himself to the rank of colonel and became commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces. He quickly established his authority by expelling foreigners and closing down British and American military bases. These moves were hugely popular with the people of Libya but slightly less so with the British and American governments.

However, the West was initially supportive of Gaddafi's regime with both the UK and the US formally recognising the new government. This support was given in exchange for assurances that all existing foreign treaties - and trade contracts - would remain in place. Gaddafi did indeed honour the treaties and trade contracts while at the same time setting about converting Libya into an Islamic state.

He remained popular with Libya's poor, spending billions of dollars of the country's oil income on improving standards of living. However he also reacted brutally to any resistance to his rule, using the police, army and even student vigilante groups to keep order by force.

Relations with the West started to sour as Gaddafi expressed public support for national liberation movements in other countries and proclaimed himself the 'defender of Islam and the Arab nation'. American intelligence agencies claim that Libya was involved in bankrolling hijacks, assassinations and revolutions, charges that Gaddafi has always denied.

In 1986, it was alledged that Libya had sent agents to blow up a Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. Marines. The allegations led to U.S. air raids on Gaddafi's home in the Tripoli's Aziziya barracks. His 18-month-old adopted daughter was killed in the attacks.

The most serious charge against Gaddafi was that Libya was involved in the 1988 bombing of an American civilian aircraft over Lockerbie in which 270 people died. Following this bombing, the U.N. imposed trade sanctions against Libya, further isolating the country from the international community.

In recent years, Gaddafi has attempted to make peace with the West - partly in response to the crippling effect that 15 years of sanctions have had on the country's economy and partly through an apparent fear that Libya may be a future target in the US-led war against terror. There has also been growing disquiet amongst the people of Libya over their international isolation.

Last year, Libya finally admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie plot and agreed to compensate the victims' families. Shortly afterwards, the UN Security Council voted to lift trade sanctions against the country. Of the members of the Security Council, only the US decided to keep sanctions in place.

The latest announcement from Tripoli, that it will stop developing weapons of mass destruction and will admit international inspectors, has drawn praise from London and Washington. Tony Blair described the decision as "an historic one and a courageous one", while President Bush said it entitled Libya - a country that America once described as 'a rogue state... a major potential threat to international security' - to "rejoin the international community".

All that remains now is for Gaddafi to decide where he wants to belong to a community that would accept him as a member.

Any questions...?

Where exactly is Libya?

In Northern Africa, between Egypt and Tunisia.

Whose side was Gaddafi on in the Iran Iraq war - and why?

Iran - because America supported Iraq.

Is it true that, despite it going against the teachings of Islam, Gaddafi employs an army of AK47-toting female bodyguards?


...and does he really carry his own tent with him wherever he goes?


...even on a state visit to Cairo's where he pitched it in the Presidential compound?


More Gaddafi...

The Official Site of Muammar Gadafi

On the trail of Colonel Gaddafi

The CIA World Factbook on Libya

The Lockerbie Trial

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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