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Scottish lawmakers vote against Lockerbie decision

The governing Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) had asked Parliament to endorse the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Megrahi as "consistent with the principles of Scottish justice," but the lawmakers rejected the bid Tuesday.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 2, 2009

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond (l.) and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill listen during a debate about the recent release of convicted Lockerbie bomber, Libyan Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, at the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh Wednesday.

David Moir/REUTERS

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London

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his bitter opponents in Scotland's nationalist-led autonomous government were today both struggling to contain the continuing damage to their political fortunes a full two weeks after the release of the Libyan agent convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

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North of the border, the minority administration of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) lost a vote of confidence in the Edinburgh Parliament on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds.

The government had asked Parliament to endorse the decision to release Mr. Megrahi as "consistent with the principles of Scottish justice," but lawmakers rejected the bid.

Although the symbolic vote was not an attempt to topple the Scottish government, the decision may further damage the pro-independence party's standing in the eyes of many Scots.

SNP defends 'brave decision'

The SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, came out swinging at the start of the debate on today's vote, describing Megrahi's release as "a difficult, challenging, and brave decision."

"Opinion is divided, but I am proud and happy to have the support within Scotland of the Church of Scotland and Archbishop Mario Conti of the Catholic Church," said Mr. Salmond. "And I am even prouder to have the support of Nelson Mandela, which indicates the respect for a Scottish judicial decision across this planet."

Opposition bemoans 'damaged' reputation

His predecessor, the Labour Party's Jack McConnell, begged to differ. He said there had been assurances that Megrahi would serve out his life sentence behind bars in Scotland.

"This agreement, this solemn undertaking, this reassurance for the families of the dead has been disregarded by the justice secretary and others, and our words will never mean as much again," he added. "We Scots have been trusted the world over, our justice system has been admired for centuries, but in one announcement, this reputation has been damaged, tarnished for years to come."

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