International

Party down with Muammar, Robert, Omar and Hugo (Silvio took off)

The Independent reports on the 40th anniversary celebration of Colonel Qaddafi’s seizure of power in a coup:

With 24 hours to go, Tripoli has taken on the frenetic aspect of a city hosting the Olympics. Scaffolding covers the main avenues as lakes of whitewash are slapped on to exposed concrete in last-minute sprucing efforts.

Thousands of people were caught out as the capital’s entire central district – which now contains what is claimed to be the largest stage in the world – was fenced off without warning. Frantic Libyans were seen crawling under the fence to get home, while others passed packages and even children to each other under the wire.

Looking down on them and staring from banners everywhere was the face of Africa’s longest-serving leader, with his gaze fixed on the future in a way that suggested his determination to keep going for another 40 years. With roads sealed, the din of motorists’ horns was only drowned by the deafening roar from rehearsing French and Italian aerobatic jet fighters.

The diplomatic fall-out from Megrahi’s release and reception has cast a shadow over the epic anniversary party. Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi will be the only EU leader prepared to lend his public backing to Colonel Gaddafi with a one-day visit to Tripoli yesterday. And even the Italian premier, whose excuse for the trip was the anniversary of a friendship accord, said he would leave before the party began.

With a host of controversial African leaders from Zimbabwe’s pariah Robert Mugabe to Sudan’s indicted Omar al-Bashir due to be joined by the likes of Venezuela’s showman President Hugo Chavez, wary Western leaders have withdrawn from what is seen as Libya’s international coming-out party.

The self-styled “brother leader” was taking no chances with the bulk of his VIP guest list and staged an extraordinary African Union summit to coincide with the event, guaranteeing the presence of many African leaders.

The money-no-object show continues tomorrow with a military parade which should see military divers climbing out of the Mediterranean to join tanks, fighter jets and troop formations in Libya’s answer to May Day in Red Square. For the 700,000 or more who make it into the fenced-off Green Square, a three-hour spectacular on Libyan history awaits from a multinational troupe directed by the French director Martin Arnaud.

With a a staggering arsenal of fireworks due to be set off over the seafront, the official programme predicts that “the Libyan people will be enflamed by the Brother Leader” – cue another of Colonel Gaddafi’s marathon speeches.

Mercifully, the Duke of York has canceled his plans to attend.

(Hat tip: modernity)

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