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Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 12:46 GMT

Profile: The Libyan maverick

Colonel Gadhafi: Playboy, mischief maker or shrewd politician?

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the maverick Libyan leader with a taste for haute couture, is regarded as a pariah by most governments in the Western world.

However, he sees himself as a revolutionary in the mould of his hero, the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abd al-Nasser, destined to unify the Arab world and help oppressed peoples everywhere.

An army captain, the young Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969, when he toppled King Idris in a coup.

[ image: Muammar Gadhafi came to power in a bloodless coup]
Muammar Gadhafi came to power in a bloodless coup
Once in the driving seat, Libya's relations with the West started to crumble.

When he sent his army into Chad - although with characteristic nerve he has never admitted to it - the US condemned the move in what became the first step to severing all economic and commercial relations with Libya in January 1986.

The UK severed diplomatic relations with Libya in 1984, following a shooting incident at the Libyan People's Bureau in London in which a policewoman was killed.

US air raids

The Libyan leader has been accused of sponsoring international terrorism, which led to American air-raids on Tripoli.

The bombings claimed 101 lives - Colonel Gaddafi's adopted daughter was reported to be among the dead, and he himself was said to have been much shaken.

[ image: Libya has been accused of supporting terrorists]
Libya has been accused of supporting terrorists
Soon after the bombing, a ship - the Eksund - was stopped by French police and found to be carrying arms from Libya to the IRA.

Libya again came under the international spotlight when it was alleged to have been involved in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, when a Pan Am plane was brought down over Scotland.

When Colonel Gaddafi refused to hand over two Libyans to appear in a Scottish court, international sanctions were introduced against his country.

Controversial comments

In his lengthy speeches, Muammar Gaddafi has made some unusual statements.

Commenting on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, he was adamant it was not an accident.

"The whole world knows that it was a premeditated murder. The file contains enough evidence for the world," he said in an interview, in which he also described UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as someone who "could be a revolutionary."

Muammar Gaddafi has deep suspicions about Nato, seeing it as a threat to the Arab world.

"They are building bridgeheads to land Nato troops in North Africa, and they call it partnership for peace. This partnership is a word which, as far the revolutionaries are concerned, should be translated as bridgeheads to land NATO troops in the Arab world, from Palestine to the Maghreb," he said in a television speech in 1997.


Muammar Gaddafi has also found himself the subject of media attention for cultivating a flamboyant personal style. His taste for designer clothes has often been commented on.

On foreign trips, he is accompanied by a phalanx of gun-toting female bodyguards.

The Green Book

At home, Colonel Gaddafi has run an autocratic political system that ruthlessly crushes any signs of dissent.

He has sought to promote his personal philosophy of the Green Book as the model for government.

However, his idea of direct democracy - based on revolutionary committees - is regarded by analysts as little more than a cover for his own personal control.

[ image: Colonel Gadhafi delivers a sermon]
Colonel Gadhafi delivers a sermon
And to secure his control, Colonel Gadhafi - once a staunch secularist - now seems to be employing religion.

He has organised mass religious meetings, appearing on state television kneeling in prayer and reciting verses from the Koran.

But Mr Gaddafi's sudden display of piety may not be to the liking of everyone in the Islamic world.

In 1996, the Libyan Militant Islamic Group claimed that it had carried out a failed assassination attempt against him - which was later strenuously denied in Tripoli.

In June 1998, the French news agency, AFP carried a report of an alleged attempt on Mr Gaddafi's life, in which he was allegedly shot and wounded.

The official Libyan news agency later described the story as "rumours disseminated against Libya with the aim of harming its national and international role."

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