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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 23:27 GMT
Libya's fate hangs in the balance
Tripoli scene
The trial has not been covered extensively in Libya
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

Libya is holding its breath, waiting for the verdict in a case that has damned its relations with the West for years.

On the eve of Wednesday's verdict in the Lockerbie case, the Libyan capital was quiet.

Colonel Gaddafi
Libya's Colonel Gaddafi is not on trial
The trial - in which two Libyans have been accused of blowing up a Pan American airliner over Lockerbie in 1988 and killing 270 people - has received little coverage in Tripoli.

Libya's relations with the rest of the world, including Britain, are hanging in the balance.

But as far as the Libyan Government is concerned, this is a legal issue involving two private citizens.

Both Libyan officials and British diplomats have pointed out that it is the two citizens themselves, rather than the Libyan state, that is on trial.

Denial

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah have both denied any part in the bombing of a Pan American airliner in 1988.

If the panel of judges finds them not guilty, or if the prosecution's case cannot be proven, then the two Libyans will undoubtedly be viewed as heroes in their homeland.

Police guard debris from Pan Am bombing in Lockerbie
Libya's stance is that it had nothing to do with Lockerbie
This is a country that spent most of the 1990s under stringent UN sanctions, a punishment for initially refusing to hand over the two suspects for trial.

An acquittal would vindicate Libya's stance all along - that it had no part in the bombing.

But a guilty verdict would open up a darker and more complex chapter in Libya's troubled relations with the West.

Since sanctions were suspended two years ago these relations have been steadily improving, but if the two suspects were to be found guilty it would pose some awkward questions as to who in Libya might have authorized their actions.

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See also:

30 Jan 01 | World
Analysis: Lockerbie's long road
30 Jan 01 | Lockerbie Trial
Fight goes on, say families
24 Jan 01 | World
Q&A: The Lockerbie trial
19 Jan 01 | World
A truly exceptional trial
24 Jan 01 | World
The men in robes
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