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Gaddafi says convicted Lockerbie bomber innocent

Gaddafi says convicted Lockerbie bomber innocent

The wounds of Lockerbie looked as raw as ever on Thursday as Muammar Gaddafi declared innocent the Libyan agent convicted of the airliner bombing, and welcomed home with an embrace his acquitted co-accused.

Libya and other Arab countries demanded that sanctions against Tripoli be lifted following the end of the trial in The Netherlands, but the United States and Britain insisted the isolated north African state had not yet earned a full pardon.

Gaddafi personally welcomed home to Tripoli Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, the acquitted co-accused of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Wednesday for the 1988 attack on Pan Am Flight 103 and the murders of 270 people.

"I have proven evidence that he (Megrahi) is innocent and I'll reveal the evidence on Monday," Gaddafi told reporters at his official residence.

Speaking figuratively, Gaddafi said with smile that in the Lockerbie case "there are as I see it three options in front of the judges: either to commit suicide, to resign or to admit the truth."

Suspicious that blame for the bombing lies at the heart of Gaddafi's state, U.S. and British leaders said Libya still must accept responsibility for Lockerbie and pay compensation before sanctions can be fully ended.

The Libyan leader said the verdict at the end of the nine-month trial had been "influenced by the U.S. government, by pressures from the U.S. government".

"LIFT SANCTIONS IMMEDIATELY"

"The sanctions must be lifted immediately or we'll be in a situation of racist aggression," he said.

Asked about compensation for the Lockerbie victims, Gaddafi referred to the Libyan victims of the bombings by U.S. warplanes of Tripoli and Benghazi in February 1986, launched to avenge a bomb attack on a Berlin discotheque used by U.S. soldiers.

"We must not forget the victims of the 1986 massacre. What do courts have to say about these victims? What do the United Nations and America have to say about them? Are these victims human beings or cattle?" Gaddafi said.

A daughter of Gaddafi was killed in the air strikes.

Receiving Fahima, Gaddafi hugged him several times and asked him about his morale.

"It's good, thank God," the freed man replied before being led to a white Korean-made sedan, a gift from Gaddafi.

Libyan secret agent Megrahi faced the prospect of at least 20 years in a Scottish prison. Libyan television said he would lodge an appeal within 14 days.

Libyan officials had earlier denied that Megrahi had acted on the orders of the Libyan state, without calling him innocent. Their demand for the full lifting of sanctions was echoed by the 22-member state Arab league.

Sanctions have been suspended since Libya handed over the two bombing suspects in April 1999, and to impose them again would take another vote in the U.N. Security Council, which would probably fail. But Libya says it wants its name cleared.

WANTS TO TURN NEW PAGE

Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalgam said in a statement Libya wished "to turn a new page in its relations with the U.K. and the U.S. and establish new relations based on respect for its sovereignty and independence".

But "we will not give in to blackmail", he added.

Asked earlier by the BBC if Libya would accept responsibility for Lockerbie, Shalgam replied: "Never."

At a London news conference, British relatives of the bomb victims said on Thursday they would not be content until they knew "the motives of those who murdered our loved ones".

Megrahi "cannot have done it on his own", said Jim Swire, a tireless campaigner whose daughter Flora died at Lockerbie.

In Edinburgh, Scotland's top legal officer, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, told the Scottish parliament the convicted Libyan agent was clearly not acting alone, but new evidence was needed before any further charges could be pressed.

A spokesman for American families of victims said the conviction of Megrahi pointed directly to Gaddafi as the author of the attack.

In Washington, President George W. Bush praised the conviction and said the Libyan government must take responsibility for the attack. After less than two weeks in office, the Bush administration faces a major foreign policy decision on how hard to squeeze Tripoli.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher laid down four demands with which the United States said Libya must comply.

U.S. DEMANDS OUTLINED

"That means revealing everything they know about the Lockerbie bombing, paying reparations, a clear declaration acknowledging responsibility for the actions of the Libyan officials and clear unambiguous actions which demonstrate the Libyan government understands its responsibilities," he said.

Reactions around the world were far from uniform, however. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who played a key role in persuading Libya to hand the two suspects over for trial, and Italian officials said sanctions should end.

Megrahi's appeal would be heard at Camp Zeist, except in the highly unlikely event that he chose not to be present - in which case it would be held in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.

The defence has two weeks to give notice of intention to appeal. Within six weeks of giving such notice, it must provide a written note setting out its grounds for appealing.

If an appeal is granted, five judges will hear it. But there are only around 25 top-brass Scottish judges qualified to hear such an appeal, and any who have already been involved in the case in any way will be excluded.

Legal commentators say such technicalities mean the hearings will not begin for the best part of a year.


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