Obama’s warning to Libya over Megrahi jubilation

(THE HERALD)   The US has warned Libya to halt any further public displays of triumphalism over the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing as Barack Obama described the images of his welcome as “highly objectionable” and “disturbing.”

The US president’s remarks raised fears that relations could sour even more if an expected public meeting between the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, went ahead in front of thousands of cheering supporters.

The leader’s son Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, who met Megrahi, was last night reported to have described his return as a victory for Libya.

Mr Obama told reporters at the White House: “I think it was highly objectionable. It is disturbing to see images suggesting that Megrahi was accorded a hero’s welcome instead of being treated as a convicted murderer.”

The decision was also branded “perfidious, repulsive and sickening” by a group representing relatives and friends of the 270 people who died in the atrocity, who have set up a website called boycottscotland.com. It urged people against travelling to Scotland, conducting business here or buying any products made in Scotland or the UK in general.

The jubilant reception for Megrahi when he returned to Tripoli on Thursday occurred in spite of a letter sent by the Prime Minister to Colonel Gaddafi before Megrahi’s release from Greenock Prison, which urged Libya to “act with sensitivity”.

First Minister Alex Salmond said the reception given to Megrahi was neither “proper, wise or appropriate” but he stood by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision.

He added: “I don’t think the matter of the homecoming in Tripoli airport was the right thing for the Libyan authorities to allow. I don’t think that was a sensible thing for them to do and I think many people would agree with that.”

Yesterday Libya seemed to be adopting an unusually low-key approach, suggesting that it is wary of hurting ties with the US and Europe after years as a pariah state.

The scenes of celebration have also forced Buckingham Palace to reconsider a planned visit to Libya by the Duke of York next month. It is thought the visit by the Duke, who has made several trips to Libya in recent years, is now unlikely to go ahead.

Throughout yesterday, Mr Salmond was forced to defend his under-fire Justice Secretary as opposition politicians in Scotland ramped up their attacks over his decision to allow the man convicted of the murder of 270 people on Pan Am flight 103 to go free after less than seven-and-a-half years of his 27-year sentence.

He insisted: “The message is that Scotland did the right thing for the right reasons.”

However, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: “I warned that Kenny MacAskill’s decision would damage Scotland’s reputation. Not only were there sickening scenes with Saltires at Tripoli airport but now there are outrageous accusations in the Libyan media accusing our justice system of premeditated murder'”.

Robert Gibbs, Barack Obama’s spokesman, said: “Those images we saw in Libya yesterday were outrageous and disgusting. We continue to express our condolences to those families that lost loved ones as a result of this terrorist outrage.”


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