Party time in Tripoli as Gaddafi's Libya turns 40

Mon Aug 31, 2009 11:21pm EDT
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By Tom Pfeiffer

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Military bands, 400 dancers, aerobatic planes and fireworks are set to electrify a hot and drowsy Tripoli from Tuesday as Muammar Gaddafi throws Libya's biggest party to mark four decades since taking power.

The six days of celebrations across the north African country were designed to get the message across to the world that the long-isolated oil exporter was open again for business after years of heavy sanctions, organizers said.

But controversy still stalks Gaddafi, with the United States and Britain angry at the "hero's welcome" that Tripoli gave a former Libyan agent who was freed by Scotland last month from a life sentence for the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner, was released on compassionate grounds because he is dying of cancer.

Libya has invited dozens of Western heads of state but European leaders are expected to stay away, including Italy's Silvio Berlusconi who visited Libya Sunday to mark the first anniversary of a Libyan-Italian friendship agreement.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela will attend and a bevy of African leaders including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Sudan's Omar Hassan al-Bashir, are expected to be in town for an African Union summit.

"Libya is opening up to the world -- that is the basic message," said Philippe Skaff, who heads the team coordinating the centerpiece celebration event. It includes companies from France and Britain.

"This is the first time they actually received thousands of foreigners with open arms. They are granting visas for this like they've never done before," he said.   Continued...

<p>Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi attends the closing of the special summit on regional conflicts in Tripoli August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Ismail Zetouny</p>