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Gaddafi thanks Brown for release

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Megrahi with Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi

The Libyan leader has thanked Gordon Brown for the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Colonel Gadaffi said the UK prime minister had "encouraged" the Scottish Government to take what he called a "courageous" decision.

The Foreign Office has strongly denied claims the decision was linked to a trade deal between the UK and Libya.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said the allegation was "wrong, completely implausible and... quite offensive".

Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, had told Libyan TV Megrahi's case was raised during talks over oil and gas.

Mr Brown has so far made no comment about the release, although it has emerged he wrote to Col Gaddafi to ask that Libya "act with sensitivity" in welcoming Megrahi back to the country.

No deal has been made between the UK government and the Libyan government in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interests
UK Foreign Office

However there were scenes of jubilation at his return, and Col Gaddafi then defied criticism from the UK and the US by meeting Megrahi on Libyan TV. The men were pictured talking and hugging.

The Scottish Government freed the 57-year-old prisoner, who is dying from cancer, on Thursday citing compassionate grounds.

Col Gaddafi praised the Scottish authorities, as well as "my friend" [Mr] Brown, the Queen and Prince Andrew for the role he said they played.

"This step is for the benefit of relations between Britain and Libya, and relations of personal friendship between me and them, and it will certainly be positively reflected in all fields of co-operation between the two countries," the Libyan leader said.

Prove innocence

The UK Foreign Office has insisted the release of Megrahi - convicted of killing 270 people aboard a transatlantic airliner in 1988 - was a matter solely for the Scottish authorities.

Shadow foreign affairs minister, David Liddington, urged the government to be more open about its relationship with Tripoli.

"It is very important, I think, for the reputation of our institutions of justice that it is made clear beyond any doubt that this was not connected with some political trade," he said.

A former British ambassador to Libya, Sir Richard Dalton, called on the British government to be "more forthcoming in support of what the Scots have done".

"There are a number of outstanding questions and silence I don't think is serving the British interest well," he said. "In my view it was not naivety, nor was it opportunism."

'Slur on UK'

In an interview with a Libyan station, Col Gadaffi's son Saif al-Islam called Megrahi's release a "victory", and reportedly claimed that the issue had been raised repeatedly by Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair.

"In all commercial contracts, for oil and gas with Britain, (Megrahi) was always on the negotiating table," Mr Islam told Libya's Al Mutawassit channel.

Mr Blair visited Libya in May 2007, during which UK energy giant BP signed a $900m (£540m) exploration deal.

I never for a minute thought that it was just a question of compassionate release and the humanity and compassion of the Scots
Rosemary Wolfe
Stepmother of bombing victim

But a Foreign Office spokesman said: "No deal has been made between the UK government and the Libyan government in relation to Megrahi and any commercial interests in the country."

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband had earlier rejected suggestions the UK pushed for Megrahi's release to improve relations as "a slur on both myself and the government".

But Rosemary Wolfe, whose step daughter died in the bombing, said she was not surprised by claims that the release was part of a trade deal with Britain.

She told the BBC: "I never for a minute thought that it was just a question of compassionate release and the humanity and compassion of the Scots.

"What surprises me is that Gaddafi's son would have come out with this kind of a statement."

'Very, very happy'

Col Gadaffi also praised the Scottish Government during his meeting with Megrahi.

He said: "I praise their courage for having proved their independence in decision-making, despite the unacceptable and illogical pressures that opposed them," state media reported.

"But they took this sound, courageous and humane decision."

Meanwhile, Megrahi has told the Times newspaper he intends to present new evidence proving his innocence.

He said he would present the evidence through lawyers in Scotland and ask the British and Scottish communities to "be the jury".

He said he was "very, very happy" to be free.

"This was my hope and wish - to be back with my family before I pass away. I always believed I would come back if justice prevailed."

HAVE YOUR SAY
This won't have any long term affect on relations with the US, but the decision shows a lack of empathy for the families of the murdered, and it will affect them
Gerry Giambattista, Pennsylvania

The bomber's release - and the hero's welcome he was given on return to Libya - provoked anger from many relatives of those who died aboard Pan-Am flight 103, particularly in the US.

President Barack Obama condemned the jubilant scenes at Tripoli airport as "highly objectionable".

The UK foreign secretary described TV footage of people greeting Megrahi by cheering and waving flags as "deeply distressing".

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond also said the reception was "inappropriate".



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