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Europe
UK warns against feting al-Megrahi
Focus on Tripoli amid anniversary of Lockerbie bombing convict's release.
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2010 18:28 GMT
Scotland released al-Megrahi, who has terminal cancer, on compassionate grounds [AFP]

One year after the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, the UK has warned Libya against a repeat of the celebrations which marked his homecoming.

Britain's foreign ministry had said that any repeat of the ceremonies seen last year after al-Megrahi's release from a Scottish jail would be "deeply insensitive".

Milad Maatoug, the head of Libya's National Youth Council, which celebrated the Libyan's return last year, said its annual festival on Friday would "have nothing to do with al-Megrahi at all".

Abdelhakim Ali, al-Megrahi's brother, has also said that Libyan authorities have instructed his family to remain silent over the anniversary.

Many relatives of the 270 people killed in the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie are still outraged over al-Megrahi's release.

The vast majority of the passengers were from the United States.

Release 'inappropriate'

John Brennan, counter-terrorism adviser to the US president, said on Friday that the release was "unfortunate, inappropriate and wrong".

In depth

 Profile: Abdel Basset al-Megrahi
 Release prompts anger and relief
  Video: Opinions divided over Lockerbie appeal
 Video: Lockerbie remembered
 Al-Meghrahi statement in full

A spokeswoman for the UK foreign office said al-Megrahi "was convicted for the worst act of terrorism in British history".

"On this anniversary we understand the continuing anguish that al-Megrahi's release has caused his victims, both in the UK and the US," the spokeswoman said.

Speaking to Reuters, one senior Libyan source was quoted as saying: "This year, Libya's leadership is keeping quiet while they secretly enjoy their success."

"They do not need to trumped it anew."

Scotland took the decision to release the bomber on compassionate grounds on August 20 last year, saying he was seriously ill with prostate cancer and had only a couple of months to live.

Abdelhakim Ali said Libyan authorities told the family not to comment on "the condition of his health" on the anniversary.

Health issues

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, said: "Many people are surprised that he [al-Megrahi] is still alive one year on.

"There's no doubt that the release of the Lockerbie bomber ... is still a big political argument."

"Libya needs BP and BP needs Libya"

Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya

He said the Americans are calling the release not "[a] compassionate ... but [a] convenient release [as] so many people benefited from the decision to free al-Megrahi".

"There're some who say that the whole Scottish legal system benefited because there were questions over the conviction.

"If al-Megrahi had gone to a second appeal then that conviction would have been challenged perhaps overturned and the question would have been left: Who is actually behind the Lockerbie bombing?"

Al-Megrahi was released after serving eight years of a minimum 20-year sentence.

"There are people in Scotland who request compassionate release and don't get it," Susan Cohen, whose 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, died in the bombing, said.

"There are people who die in Scottish prison," the 72-year-old US resident told The Associated Press news agency, adding "[al-Megrahi] may outlive me".

Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, said al-Megrahi's release "had been done following the precepts of Scottish jurisdiction and Scots law".

"Some people say that the Scottish system has too much compassion," he said.

"But at the end of the day, I think I'd rather be first minister of a society with too much compassion than be first minister of a country with too little compassion."

BP allegations

Some groups have speculated that energy company BP pressured the government to release al-Megrahi.

US senators allege the firm played a part in securing the bomber's release as part of its efforts to seal a lucrative exploration deal with Tripoli.

The US senate's foreign relations committee wants to hold a hearing into the affair in the coming weeks.

Officials in Britain deny BP was involved in the affair and the Scottish government has declined to send ministers to Washington to appear before the hearing.

A former British ambassador to Libya told Al Jazeera that there was "nothing fishy at all about" linking BPs oil deals to al-Megrahi.

"When Tony Blair [the former British prime minister] went to Libya, he was responsible for negotiating several issues [including policies affecting prisoners and the BP deal]," Oliver Miles said.

Miles said the BP deal would have happened, regardless of al-Megrahi's release.

"Libya needs BP and BP needs Libya," he said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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