Scotland refuses request for minister to attend US hearing

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Scotland on Thursday turned down a request from US senators for its justice minister, who took the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber, to appear at a hearing on the controversy next week.

"I can confirm that the Scottish government has declined the invitation for Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to attend next week's hearing," said a Scottish government spokesman.

"We believe we have provided full and relevant information."

The Scottish government also said it had declined an invitation for Andrew Fraser, the Scottish prison service's top medical officer, to attend the hearing.

The bomber, Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, had been in a Scottish prison when the diagnosis for terminal cancer was made that led to his release on compassionate grounds.

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing, in Washington on Thursday, has been called after lawmakers raised suspicions that oil giant BP may have lobbied for the Lockerbie bomber's release.

MacAskill, justice minister in Scotland's devolved government, made the decision last August to free Megrahi. Doctors had given the bomber three months to live after the cancer diagnosis, but almost a year later he is still alive.

The decision to free the bomber, the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, caused outrage in the United States, where most of the 270 victims were from.

The anger has been renewed recently by the US senators' claims relating to BP -- already under fire over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill -- and threatened to overshadow British Prime Minister David Cameron's White House debut Tuesday.

Scotland, which is part of Britain but under its devolved government has control over its own justice matters, has repeatedly denied its decision to release the Lockerbie bomber was influenced by BP.

The spokesman pointed out Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond had written Wednesday to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the senate committee, and provided "comprehensive information and assistance".

"In addition to the extensive information already provided, we have written to Senator Kerry again today and offered to answer any additional questions in advance of the hearing," he said.

During his visit to Washington, Cameron reiterated his view that Megrahi's release was "completely wrong", but added that he had seen no evidence to suggest the Scottish decision was swayed by BP.

© 2010 AFP

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