Gaddafi honoured during military parade

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was guest of honour at a military parade to kick off six days of festivities in Libya marking 40 years since Muammar Gaddafi took control of the desert country in a bloodless coup.
Chavez swept into Tripoli’s landmark Green Square to mix with dignitaries and joke with the press before greeting the veteran Libyan leader who arrived dressed in military uniform, Reuters reports.

The two leaders known for their anti-US rhetoric hugged then sat together, flanked by African heads of state including Tunisia’s Zine al Abidine Ben Ali and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and dozens of army top brass.

Military bands from 17 nations including France and Italy filed past and Italian acrobat jets zoomed over the Mediterranean in Gaddafi’s honour, trailing smoke in the red white and green of Italy’s national flag.

The celebrations planned across Libya are designed to show the world that the long-isolated oil exporter is open again for business after years of heavy sanctions, organisers said.

Libya has cut support for armed revolutionary groups and made peace with Washington by scrapping a programme to build nuclear weapons and paying compensation for bombings and other attacks for which it was blamed by the West.

Foreign companies are back searching for oil or vying for contracts to build roads, railways, phone networks and schools as Libya tries to make up for lost time.

Yet controversy still stalks Gaddafi, with the US and Britain angry at the “hero’s welcome” that Tripoli gave a former Libyan agent who was freed by Scotland last month from a life sentence for the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people.

Libya has invited dozens of Western heads of state but European leaders are expected to stay away, including Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi who visited Libya on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of a Libyan-Italian friendship agreement.

Switzerland’s officials stayed away in solidarity with two Swiss nationals prevented from leaving Libya, Swiss authorities said. The two businessmen have been caught up in a diplomatic crisis since the brief arrest of Gaddafi’s son Hannibal in Geneva in July 2008.

Later in the evening, circus acts and carefully choreographed sound and light displays were planned, tracing Libya’s history as a centre of Phoenician trade, Roman civilisation and Arab learning, and offering a glimpse of the future.

Pic: President Muammar Gaddafi of Libya