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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 10:37 GMT
Gaddafi gives lesson on democracy
Col Muammar Gaddafi speaks during the video conference
Col Gaddafi said the US political system was a 'failure'
Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has given US academics a lecture on democracy, declaring his country's government freer than any in the West.

"There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet," he told an audience at New York's Columbia University via live satellite link.

However, he did also use the rare debate to lash out at Middle East countries, declaring them "backward".

The event is the latest example of Libya's increasing ties with the West.

Col Gaddafi has ruled Libya since 1969, when he came to power in a bloodless military coup. He has never faced an election.

Human rights groups widely criticise Libya's record, and freedoms of expression and association are severely limited.

Diplomatic thaw

Once regarded by Western powers as a pariah state which sponsored global terrorism, Libya renounced weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

Tripoli also paid compensation for the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Scotland in 1988, in which with 258 passengers died.

In the Middle East, the opposition is quite different than the opposition in advanced countries. In our countries, the opposition takes the form of explosions, assassinations, killings
Col Gaddafi

Col Gaddafi was appearing as a panellist at a two-day conference on democracy at Columbia University.

Along with the US analysts, the debate was attended by about 45 Libyan scholars and political analysts, who joined in questioning the Libyan leader for more than one hour.

Despite the recent rapprochement between Washington and Tripoli, Mr Gaddafi denounced Western democracy as "fake" and "farcical".

People's forums

Speaking in Arabic via an interpreter, he said Libya's Jamahiriya system gave its people a genuine opportunity to air their views at "people's congresses".

Challenged by a US moderator on the issue of freedom of speech, Col Gaddafi said every Libyan could express their opinions at the congresses.

He described them as better forums than a newspaper, insisting that "everything is open to discussion" in Libya and, while Washington resorted to "eavesdropping" on its population and "creating another state of terror."

"Countries like the United States, India, China, the Russian Federation, are in bad need of this Jamahiriya system," Col Gaddafi said.

Middle East opposition

The Libyan leader also said that what was often viewed as government heavy handedness in the Middle East in dealing with political opposition stemmed from the violent nature of dissent.

"In the Middle East, the opposition is quite different than the opposition in advanced countries.

"In our countries, the opposition takes the form of explosions, assassinations, killings," he said.

Col Gaddafi's appearance at the conference was described by organisers as the first major meeting of US and Libyan officials in 25 years.

"This was totally unprecedented - a live interchange with no questions given in advance," Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of two US moderators, said.

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