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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Libya makes claims of opening up
Colonel Gaddafi
Gaddafi needs convincing of the need for reform
After years of isolation, Libya is showing signs of opening up - both internally and towards the international community.

The year the country is hosting both the first pan-African oil conference and the UN Human Rights commission - indicators of increased international involvement in both the economic and political spheres.

But internally, the signs of more openness are much more obvious in Libya's economy - there is still, for example a large amount of internal censorship.

"The economy is changing in Libya - this is why I'm here [in this post]," Libya's Minister for Economics, Shukri Muhammad Ghanim, told BBC World Service's Assignment programme.

"We are trying to work as much as we can to enable the private sector to take its part in the economy."

White elephants

But then with unemployment at 30% in Libya, some reform would seem to be essential anyway - not least because some international sanctions, predominantly from the US, still remain in place.

The lifting of these sanctions - which, some hope, would come as a result of the reforms - would undoubtedly be a boost.

In the late 1970s, a socialist-style economy was strongly imposed - seen as the right way of applying Colonel Muammer al Gaddafi's Third Universal Theory.

Families could have only one house, savings were limited, and the state took over all production and commerce, while the only jobs to be had were with the government.

Libya in the international community
Isolated in 1988 following Lockerbie bombing
Changing political orientation towards Africa
Twice tried to pull out of Arab League
UN sanctions suspended after co-operation with Lockerbie trial
US sanctions still in place
Elected chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission in January 2003
Although staples such as rice - as well as TVs and radios - were and still are subsidised, Libya relied on its oil reserves to keep its economy afloat.

"A good part of the oil money has been spent on the daily budget - which is kind of money thrown in the sea," Mr Ghanim said.

"You just give a salary, end up importing goods, and that's it.

"Still, there was some part of it invested in capital projects - unfortunately, some of these projects were not studied very well, and you could call them white elephants."

Private shops

He conceded that a part of adopting this new approach was to convince Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi that it was the right way.

They are willing to sign up to any international agreement we would like for them to sign up to
British ambassador to Libya Anthony Laden
"We have to convince everyone that what we are doing is good for the country - and the leader, of course," he said.

"We consulted him, we talked to him - this is what we believe is good for the country."

Some evidence of this new approach is apparent in Tripoli's main shopping streets, which now have a number of private shops.

"The whole world is changing. We cannot think alone," Mr Ghanim added.

Anti-terrorism measures

Some of this opening up of the economic world has, in turn, had an affect on the politics of the country.

For example, engagement of British business interests has brought a renewing of relations between the two countries.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter with Al Saadi Gaddafi
Gaddafi's son owns shares in Italian football club Juventus
Diplomatic relations were severed in 1984 following the shooting of a British policewoman outside the Libyan People's Bureau in London, and were further damaged by the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

It was following that terrorist outrage that the international community as a whole isolated Libya, and the UN imposed sanctions on the country.

But Britain now has an ambassador to Libya, Anthony Layden - who told Assignment that Libya had now completely abandoned terrorism.

"Libya is definitely on the right side in the war against terror," Layden said.

"The Libyans tell me that they regard themselves as a legitimate target for Osama bin Laden and his organisation."

Indeed, Libya issued an arrest warrant for bin Laden in 1998, three years before the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.

Is Gaddafi listening?

But some sanctions - particularly from the US - remain in place in Libya.

Indeed, in April 2003 some of America's best-known corporatons were fined around $1.1m for trading with Libya, amongst other sanctioned countries.

However, Mr Layden contended that Libya was determined to become a full member of the international community once more.

"Their position is that they are willing to sign up to any international agreement we would like for them to sign up to," he said.

And he argued that Gaddafi would equally be prepared to move back into international politics.

"He's the sort of man that you can engage," Mr Layden said.

"He's very mindful of what people think and what their views are."

Wreckage of Pan Am flight 103
The Lockerbie bombing isolated Libya
Libya's political system works in by proposals being put before the General People's Congress - most of these from Gaddafi, not technically the head of state but the "leader of the revolution."

But Mr Layden said that Gaddafi acted on what Libya's people wanted.

"There is not freedom of expression in the way we would understand it," he admitted, but added that "there is more than immediately meets the eye."

There are, for example, no restrictions on access to anti-Gaddafi websites in internet cafes.

However, a stong amount of censorship of more conventional media - television, radio and newspapers - still exists.

The state owns and controls these media and the authorities do not permit the publication of opinions contrary to government policy.

Some international publications are available in the country, but they are routinely checked and edited by the government.

US fines sanctions-busting firms
15 Apr 03  |  Business
Gaddafi comes in from the cold
10 Aug 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
The burden of 'black gold'
12 May 03  |  UK

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