Qadhafi invites Bush to Libya

TRIPOLI (AFP) — Libya has opened a new phase in its journey from pariah state back to the international fold by calling for US President George W. Bush to visit and pledging action on human rights.
The moves are the latest in a dramatic turnaround by the oil-rich nation, which was bombed by the United States in the 1980s, since Tripoli renounced its quest for weapons of mass destruction.

US Senator Richard Lugar, who on Saturday ended a two-day visit to the north African nation, said Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi had expressed “his hope that Bush and [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice would visit Libya.”

Lugar, who heads the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had discussed human rights and economic cooperation with Qadhafi as well as getting Libya removed from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

He said Tripoli had “adopted a definitive position on the matter” of terrorism and that there was a “major and progressive” improvement in relations between the two countries.

Ties were restored in June last year after Qadhafi’s surprise announcement in December 2003 that he was abandoning a programme to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Since then a number of world leaders have visited Libya, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.

Qadhafi’s son, who announced earlier this year the imminent opening of Libyan and American embassies in Tripoli and Washington, told AFP that detained members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood would soon be released.

“Circumstances have changed,” said Seif Al Islam, who heads the Qadhafi Foundation charitable organisation which called in June for 88 Brotherhood members to be released.

The move comes after the Brotherhood refused to join a conference of Libyan opposition figures in London, while calling nevertheless for Qadhafi to step down for the sake of Libya’s democratic future.

Qadhafi’s son also mentioned the possibility of “compensating Libyan victims of unfair treatment due to past mistakes” committed by the regime, accused by the West of over its human rights record since Qadhafi took power in a 1977 coup.

Qadhafi’s diplomatic reversal was sparked after Tripoli denounced terrorism and acknowledged responsibility for the Lockerbie and French UTA plane bombings in the 1980s, paying out millions in compensation.

“There’s nothing wrong with opening the archives of the past and proceeding with national reconciliation,” said Seif Al Islam, adding that exiled Libyans could also have confiscated property returned to them.

He called on exiles to “return to their country and claim their rights.”

US-based Human Right Watch last week called for a Libyan journalist detained without charge since January to be released or face charges in court.

Abd Al Raziq Al Mansuri, 52, has written various articles critical of Libyan society and government but was detained for owning a pistol without a licence.

He was held incommunicado for four months, without access to family or lawyer, the group said in a statement.

“The authorities apparently arrested Abd Al Raziq Al Mansuri because he was exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said the group’s Middle East director, Joe Stork.

“The government is not only violating international human rights law, but also domestic Libyan legislation when its internal security agents hold a person for months in incommunicado detention.”

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