Chavez and Gaddafi call for ‘balanced world’

With key energy accords on the table at the second South America-Africa (ASA) summit here, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi upped the ante Saturday with calls for the creation of a “NATO of the South” by 2011.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long sought to improve relations among non-Western nations, opened the meeting in the locked-down scenic resort of Isla Margarita, where Venezuelan military have set up checkpoints and banned all weapons.

The summit, following a first meeting in 2006 in Nigeria, is being attended by 30 heads of state and representatives from a further 30 nations.

“Our union will contribute to a balanced world, “said Chavez, while praising his “brother” Kadhafi, who earlier this week lashed out at Western powers in a damning address to the UN General Assembly.

The Libyan leader, who in his rambling 95-minute speech at the United Nations called on the Security Council to be renamed the “Terror Council,” said he was pushing for the creation of a “NATO of the South” by 2011 to counter the military bloc of the United States and European powers.

Energy infrastructure development and joint oil project cooperation were the central topics of the meeting, however, with a final declaration expected to include a number of specific joint commitments.

“I’m sure that we will have a series of agreements on this issue that will be very important,” said Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramirez.

He added that cooperation agreements will seek to build up domestic energy capacity and resources.

“All the energy infrastructure, both in South America and in Africa, was designed and developed to meet the energy requirements of the industrial powers that our countries were satellites of,” he lamented.

A draft statement from the summit also highlighted the need to create new financial architecture to regulate world markets in the light of the devastating economic crisis, and a rejection of the drug trafficking that plagues the two regions.

Chavez was especially effusive about Kadhafi, confessing great “admiration” for the leader who is marking his first visit to Latin America since he came to power 40 years ago.

Venezuelan state media meanwhile reported earlier that Kadhafi and Chavez, both traditional foes of the United States and Western powers, will sign eight cooperation agreements on Monday.

“Libya is the gateway to Africa for us because it is a country well-known for its socialist policies that plays an important and strategic role for us,” said Venezuelan Ambassador to Tripoli Afif Tajeldine.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, one of the instigators for the first ASA summit, meanwhile said there was “no global challenge in the 21st Century that cannot be tackled by Africa and South America, and there is no challenge that can be addressed without (the two regions).”

Chavez’s other high-profile guests at the Caribbean resort destination also included Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila.

The Venezuelan leader also revealed Saturday that Libya would be the site of the next ASA summit in 2011.

Freed bomber launches website to claim his innocence

The freed Lockerbie bomber released documents online Friday which he said support his claim that he is innocent of the 1988 bombing of a plane over Scotland, which killed 270 people.

Scotland’s top law officer strongly criticised the move, saying Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi had chosen the “selective publication of his view of the evidence in the media”.

Megrahi dropped an appeal against conviction over the atrocity shortly before he was released from a Scottish jail last month on compassionate grounds, because he is dying of prostate cancer.

Hundreds of pages of documents prepared for the appeal, by Megrahi’s Scottish lawyer Tony Kelly, were published on the website:

“I have returned to Tripoli with my unjust conviction still in place,” said the Libyan, who is in a hospital in Tripoli.

“As a result of the abandonment of my appeal, I have been deprived of the opportunity to clear my name through the formal appeal process. I have vowed to continue my attempts to clear my name,” he added in a statement.

“I will do everything in my power to persuade the public, and in particular the Scottish public, of my innocence. Through my website I have published the material which featured in the first full hearing of my appeal.”

Megrahi, 57, was admitted to hospital at the start of September, less than a fortnight after his release when he was given less than three months to live.

The former Libyan agent is the only person convicted of the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

His release, ordered by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, triggered fury from the US administration and families of the 189 US nationals who died.

Megrahi insists that he sympathises with the victims’ families.

“I hope that this can assist in the understanding of my case, especially for those who have been most profoundly affected by it,” he said in the statement issued by his lawyers.

More documents will be put online in coming days. “Mr. Megrahi hopes to continue to publish details of his appeal challenge in the course of the forthcoming weeks,” said a spokesman for Megrahi’s lawyers.

Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, said she deplored the manner of his attempt to challenge his conviction after he had abandoned his appeal.

“The only appropriate forum for the determination of guilt or innocence is the criminal court,” said Angiolini, who is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland.

She said that if the appeal had come to court, Scottish prosecutors were “ready, willing and able” to argue the case for his conviction in the appeal which Megrahi dropped.

“Mr Megrahi was convicted unanimously by three senior judges following trial and his conviction was upheld unanimously by five judges, in an Appeal Court presided over by the Lord Justice General, Scotland’s most senior judge.

“Mr Megrahi remains convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity in UK history,” she said.

A Scottish government spokeswoman underlined that Megrahi’s release had been on compassionate grounds and had nothing to do with his conviction for the bombing.

It added that it had studied what other documents could be released with the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC).

“Mr. MacAskill made his decision to grant Mr Al Megrahi compassionate release to return to Libya to die based on the due process of Scots law. He also made clear that he supports the conviction,” she said.

The United States this month warned Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi to be mindful of American sensitivities over the Lockerbie bombing when he attends his first UN General Assembly in New York next week.

Libya to contest IRA victims’ compensation claims

Libya will challenge any compensation demands from relatives of IRA victims who say the terror group used explosives supplied by Tripoli.

Britain’s Gordon Brown now insists he will back the families’ claims but a son of Colonel Gaddafi says
they will be resisted in court.

Over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said Brown was not involved but that the case was being politicised.

“Come on, it is a tragedy. It is immoral. It is completely immoral to use this case to advance your own political agenda and this is what happened in the UK and in London in particular,” he told a British TV channel. “There are political parties fighting each other, preparing themselves for the next election and they are trying to use this tragedy for their agenda. They are disgusting.”

The British Prime Minister has been embroiled in controversy over Lockerbie. He has firmly denied claims that business interests were involved in the decision to free terminally-ill Abdel Basset al-Megrahi.

Released last month on compassionate grounds by Scottish authorities, he was given a rapturous reception when he arrived back in Libya, in scenes that caused widespread outrage.

Scotland again debates Lockerbie bomber’s release

Scotland’s Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, has again been defending his decision to free the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds.

The Scottish parliamentary session follows the release yesterday of official documents showing Britain did not want to offend Libya by excluding Abdel Basset al-Megrahi from a prisoner transfer deal.

In a letter to his Scottish counterpart, the UK Home Secretary Jack Straw says Tripoli had become “an important partner in the fight against terrorism.”

Other correspondence shows Britain did not want al-Megrahi to die in prison, but London has repeated its insistence that the matter was solely the decision of Scottish ministers.

Al-Megrahi, the only person to be convicted of the bombing, is only expected to live for three months more as he has terminal cancer.

Britain and the United States have both condemned the rapturous welcome give to al-Megrahi on his return to Libya, but that did not stop the film being used by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the revolution which saw him become Libya’s leader.

Gaddafi celebrates 40 year rule

Marching bands, aerobatic displays and hundreds of dancers —all are in the mix as the Libyan leadership celebrates 40 years of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.

The nation has launched into a six day extravaganza to which dozens of western heads of state and government have been invited, though European leaders are expected to stay away.

Gadaffi has kept a tight grip on the country since seizing power in a coup in 1969.

Despite a rapprochment with the West in recent years the military ruler remains a controversial figure on the world stage. His recent warm welcome for the Lockerbie bomber on his return to Libya caused outrage in the US and Britain.

The terminally ill Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds by Scottish authorities.

Wanted Sudanese leader at AU’s Libyan summit

The Sudanese President and wanted war crimes suspect Omar al-Bashir has had talks with the leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is hosting an African Union summit and the conflict in Sudan is high on the agenda. It is Bashir’s third visit to Tripoli since the international warrant on crimes against humanity charges was issued against him.

Gadhafi opened the conference with a searing attack on Israel, which he accused of being behind all the wars in Africa.

The gathering is coninciding with ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the coup that enabled the Libyan leader to seize power. It comes just days after the terminally-ill Lockerbie bomber received a hero’s welcome following his release on compassionate grounds by Scottish authorities.

Questions follow Lockerbie bomber to hospital

Terminally-ill convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was rushed to a Tripoli hospital on Sunday, accompanied by a British journalist wanting to know if his release was linked to a trade deal.

Although too ill to respond, his silence has done nothing to dispel speculation surrounding his return to Libya.

The UK government has denied a “back door deal” was done although leaked letters show ministers did agree in 2007 to include him in a possible prisoner transfer because of what was called national interests.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond remains adamant that Megrahi was released from a Scottish jail with no involvement from London.

Salmond said: “The right reason was to release a dying man on compassionate grounds and not on any other factor: international politics, trade, whatever oil deals may or may not have been – not allow any of these to affect the decision.”

Back in 2003, the British government was negotiating normalising relations with Libya. It was
linked to getting Tripoli to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme. On the back of that, various oil deals were made but London insists Megrahi’s release was a separate issue.