Britain warns Libya not to fete Megrahi's release, a year on

20th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain has warned Libya that any celebrations to mark the one-year anniversary Friday of the Lockerbie bomber's release would be "tasteless, offensive and deeply insensitive".

The Foreign Office urged restraint amid fears there could be a repeat of scenes last year when Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi returned to a hero's welcome in Libya after his release.

The Scottish government, which took the decision to free the Libyan bomber, also reportedly urged Tripoli to refrain from indulging in celebrations this year, saying any public events held in Megrahi's honour would be "deplorable".

Scotland's devolved government released the bomber on compassionate grounds on August 20 last year, saying he was seriously ill with prostate cancer and probably only had three months to live.

But Megrahi is still alive in his homeland, prompting fury among the mainly American relatives of the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in December 1988.

The former intelligence agent, 58, was the only person convicted over the atrocity and was released after serving just eight years of a minimum 20-year sentence.

His release has tested relations between the United States, and both the Scottish and British governments. Scotland has repeatedly defended the move, while London insists it believes the decision was a mistake.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman in London late Thursday urged Libya not to hold celebrations honouring the man "convicted for the worst act of terrorism in British history".

"Particularly on this anniversary we understand the continuing anguish that Megrahi's release has caused his victims, both in the UK and the US," she said.

"Any celebration of Megrahi's release will be tasteless, offensive and deeply insensitive to the victims' families."

She added: "We have made our concerns clear to the Libyan government."

Britain's ambassador to Tripoli, Richard Northern, has made clear to senior Libyan government officials that any public events honouring Megrahi could damage warming ties between the two countries, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

For its part, the Scottish government "had made representations" to the Libyans not to publicly celebrate Megrahi's release, reported the Times newspaper, citing a source close to First Minister Alex Salmond.

"We think it would be deplorable and show a lack of respect," said the source.

Since his return to Libya, Megrahi has kept a low profile living a secluded life with his family in a smart district of Tripoli. His last public appearance was in September.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who took the decision to release Megrahi, defended the move Thursday, saying: "It was a decision I had to make."

Scotland's devolved centre-left government, led by First Minister Alex Salmond and based in Edinburgh, has responsibility for justice issues in Scotland under Britain's constitutional arrangements.

As well as anger that Megrahi has outlived the three-month diagnosis, there is also fresh outrage in the US over allegations oil giant BP may have had a hand in the affair.

A group of senators suspect the energy firm -- already vilified in the US over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill -- played a part in securing the bomber's release as part of its efforts to seal a lucrative exploration deal with Tripoli.

© 2010 AFP

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