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Libyan Leader Gadhafi Marks 40 Years in Power


Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has kicked off days of celebrations to mark his 40 years in power. Many dignitaries from around the world have been invited to attend. But not everyone is ready to take part in the events.

Music floats through the city, overhead fighter jets fly in tight formation, green flags and white lights line the streets, and everywhere posters of Moammar Gadhafi observe the activity.

The main event is taking place in a massive tent built along Tripoli's Corniche especially for the occasion. It is said to be the largest in the world - officials are checking with the Guiness World Book of Records.

There are parades, parachutists, and crowds of young women ululating.

Everything is as planned, everything, that is, except the guest list.

The celebrations of Moammar Gadhafi's 40 years in power had been planned as a further step in Libya's return to the international stage. But there have been stumbles, most recently the controversial homecoming of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

And there is Colonel Gadhafi's playing host to some of the world's least savory leaders. Omar Hasan al-Bashir was welcomed again in Libya this week, despite an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes. The Sudanese president was in town for a special session of the African Union, a meeting that ensured at least the heads of state from the continent would take part in the 40th anniversary events.

For these reasons, many Western leaders stayed away. The most notable European to come to Tripoli in recent days has been Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But his visit came before the anniversary, and consisted of a quick dinner before heading back home a few hours later.

The slights appear not to have dampened the mood.

Mr. Gadhafi kicked off the events with a program held at a Tripoli airbase on the eve of the anniversary. There were horsemen, dancing girls, and well-armed men in tanks.

The program was a kaleidoscope of Libyan history. But as the show stretched past midnight with a graphic recreation of the hanging of Omar al Mukhtar, the "Lion of the Desert" who was killed by Italian troops in 1931, it was clear the night would be long.

Then a parade of huge portraits of Mr. Gadhafi came into view and the performers appeared to skip a World War, a monarchy and the discovery of oil.

For the events are less a celebration of the Libyan State than of the Colonel himself.

But the world has changed greatly in the 40 years since he seized power. Political opponents still fill state prisons, but the monolithic control has weakened.

The rooftops of Tripoli are lined with satellite dishes, bringing in news and sports and entertainment from around the world. The shops are filled with i-phones and computers. And fashionable dress is worn in smart restaurants, signs that the country's oil wealth is beginning to make a difference in average people's lives.

All the same, the nod to Colonel Gadhafi is still given, as is the case with this young man downtown.

He says he is one of the workers who has put up a nearby portrait of the Colonel. He refers to him first as "the leader", then adds, with a smile, the "great leader".

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