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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 10:42 GMT
Tripoli in the spotlight
Tripoli: There is still a colonial feel to the city
By Frank Gardner in Tripoli

Touch down at Tripoli's ultra-modern airport and you could be almost anywhere else in the world.

Until, that is, you step outside the terminal. A faded picture of the country's leader greets you at once.

The cult of Gaddafi is keenly felt
This serves as a reminder that in this isolated North African country, the cult of Colonel Gaddafi rules supreme.

A short and pleasant drive takes you into town past small farms where sheep graze among the orchards. Libya's band of narrow countryside blends smoothly into the city and, before long, you are in Tripoli.

Barring a handful of gleaming new tower blocks, this is a low-rise city, a place of white-washed villas and green-painted minarets. Most of the colonial Italian architecture has survived the 1969 revolution.

Satellite television

In the centre of town, young men sit in pavement cafes watching the world go by - just as the Italians would have done 50 years ago.

But there is not a lot else to do in Tripoli. In this strict Islamic state, alchohol is banned and public entertainment is almost non-existent.

Tripoli scene
There is little to do except to watch the world go by
For the few Western expatriates living here, life is austere. The pay may be good, but their social life is largely limited to life on expatriate compounds, or the odd excursion into the desert.

After years of state control, Libyans have become a polite but not effusively warm people - unlike their neighbours the Egyptians.

A stroll along Tripoli's beach front gives you some idea of how people like to spend their free time if they can: watching satellite television.

European role model

This country may have been cut off from the rest of the world by UN sanctions and an air embargo for most of the 1990s, but Libyans are keenly aware of how close they are to Europe.

Even when there were no flights coming in or out, enterprising Libyans were hopping across to Malta to buy Italian designer suits.

Now the shops are well stocked with imported goods. Libya is, after all, an oil state with more than $10bn in oil revenues.

Those revenues have attracted up to a million migrant wokers from poorer parts of Africa.

When I was last here in April, they were to be seen everywhere, washing cars and waiting for work on street corners.

But in September, Libya was rocked by two weeks of racial violence that left dozens dead. Not everyone here, it seems, shares Colonel Gaddafi's utopian dream of a United States of Africa.

Looking around this capital, it is hard to pin down exactly what defines the prevailing culture. This is both an Arab and an African country.

Yet many Libyans are looking towards Europe as an economic role model. Just how much co-operation they can expect from the West may now depend on how Libya responds to the verdict.

Full verdicts
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01 Feb 01 | Media reports
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