TRIPOLI, Sep 2 – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi marked the 40th anniversary of the bloodless coup that brought him to power, with celebrations attended by African, Arab and Latin American leaders but largely ignored by the West.
At the end of a two-hour show late on Tuesday retracing the 40 years since Gaddafi ousted King Idriss in 1969, a brief video clip showed the return to Libya last month of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, but the western delegations present did not react.
Gaddafi party kicked off around midnight on Monday at the former US military base of Matega near Tripoli with a two-hour spectacle that paid homage to the leader himself and featured music, illuminations and dance.
Entitled "A Knight and Men," the display was marked by a procession of some 30 floats – one with a giant picture of Gaddafi in military uniform – and performances by dancers and horsemen from Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Ukraine.
Guests included Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, African leaders who had earlier attended an African Union summit in Libya, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his Dominican counterpart Leonel Fernandez, Serbian leader Boris Tadic and Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.
Later on Tuesday, there was a military parade of detachments from African, Arab and eastern European armed forces, while dozens of aircraft, including French and Italian jets, flew overhead.
"Sixty heads of state or government are attending," a Libyan official told AFP. Among those sighted by AFP were Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and royals from Kuwait and Qatar.
But draconian security measures across Tripoli kept Libyans off the streets and they could only watch the parade on television.
In one sour note, the Moroccan delegation walked out in protest at the presence of a representative of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic proclaimed by the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, officials said in Rabat.
Morocco has occupied the Western Sahara since the withdrawal of Spain, the colonial power in 1975 and claims sovereignty over the territory.
Tripoli’s streets have been decked with thousands of multicoloured lights, and hundreds of Gaddafi portraits and placards paying tribute to the leader, including one saying: "May Glory Be Yours, O Maker of Glories."
Gaddafi, who once described himself as "leader of the Arab leaders, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of the Muslims," invited a string of European leaders who, however, stayed away.
Libya’s ties with the West have improved markedly but suffered a major hiccup last month when the north African country gave a hero’s welcome to convicted Lockerbie bomber Megrahi.
An official said Megrahi, freed from a Scottish jail last month on compassionate grounds and received home as a hero, "is not participating in any way in the celebrations."
Public celebration of Megrahi’s return came despite US warnings that such a welcome would damage relations that have been improving since Tripoli renounced its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
After the clip of Megrahi’s homecoming was shown, French Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet said "there was no reason to create an incident."
He told AFP: "Obviously if things had been more provocative there would have been a reaction. But the entire European community (present) did not budge."
A western diplomat said the Europeans had agreed to walk out if Megrahi himself had turned up.
Critics in London of the release say Megrahi was freed as part of British oil contracts in Libya.
In new documents revealed on Tuesday, British Justice Secretary Jack Straw is quoted as citing Libya as an "important partner" in fighting terrorism and illegal immigration.
Gaddafi is now being welcomed in European capitals after many years as a pariah and being accused of supporting terrorism.
Delayed promises to forge ahead with political and economic reforms in the oil-rich African nation are still lagging despite ambitious plans backed by the leader’s second son and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam.
Gaddafi marked his latest diplomatic victory when he received Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday to celebrate the first anniversary of a friendship treaty with the former colonial power.