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Europeans' views of Qaddafi clash with Western diplomatic moves

Despite recent deals to lure Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi away from his pariah status, many Europeans still see him as a serial human rights violator and 1970s-style Arab dictator.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 1, 2009

Libya's Muammar Qaddafi attends a ceremony in Tripoli to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his military coup d'état. Plans for the party include military bands, 400 dancers, aerobatic planes, and fireworks.

Ismail Zetouny/REUTERS

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Paris

As Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi gins up a titanic-sized celebration in Tripoli to honor the 40th anniversary of his coup and his rehabilitation in the West, he's won few hearts and minds among the European public, which still views him largely as a serial human rights violator and 1970s-style Arab dictator.

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Especially in light of Mr. Qaddafi's hero's homecoming for the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi – analysts describe a classic moral clash between a broad public and expert view of Qaddafi as an unrepentant bully at home, and the patient Western diplomatic efforts to bring Libya into the comity of nations.

Arab intellectuals and democrats who deride the caricaturing of Arabs in Western media – say the problem with Qaddafi is that he's so erratic and egocentric that such treatment is credible. Huge signs in Tripoli this week laud Qaddafi, reading "May Glory be Yours, O Maker of Glories."

European leaders at today's blowout fete of dancing and fireworks in Tripoli include only the president of Serbia, and the leader of Malta. They will rub shoulders with Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. (Read our blog on Qaddafi's guest list.)

Yet Italy's Silvio Berlusconi was on hand Sunday with an Italian acrobatic jet team that blew green-smoke contrails, and many nations are represented at the deputy and assistant deputy level for Qaddafi's grand party. With an estimated 43 billion barrels of crude oil under its sands, Libya has the largest crude reserves in Africa. Some 20 multinationals have offices there – from Shell to Gazprom.

Coming in from the cold

Having scuppered his nuclear program in 2003 and renounced terrorism, Qaddafi has been gaining a kind of official acceptance in Europe – including in Italy, Britain, Spain, France, and Switzerland. In June, he was photographed at the G-8 summit in Italy amid heads of state, including President Obama.

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