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US East Coast Suburb Residents Protest Gadhafi Visit


Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi is in the spotlight this week with celebrations in Tripoli marking the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought him to power. Mr. Gadhafi invited world leaders to attend, although many Western dignitaries stayed away. Later this month, Colonel Gadhafi will attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York. His plans originally included pitching a tent. This caused an uproar in a suburban town which has a large Orthodox Jewish community. Some Englewood New Jersey residents are worried about Mr. Gadhafi's U.S. visit.

State organized celebrations on the streets of Tripoli marked the anniversary of Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi's revolution 40 years ago.

Thousands of miles away, Mr. Gadhafi is getting a different reception before he even steps foot in the United States.

"I don't want him on U.S. soil and I don't want him sleeping in my city," says Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, a town in the state of New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Up this hill is a mansion owned by the Libyan government. Mr. Gadhafi had originally planned to pitch a tent on the lawn to receive guests during the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

Work crews began renovating the mansion and preparing the lawn months ago.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach lives next door.

"This property was a derelict property. It was a hovel. It was a communal eyesore for 10 years. There was no investment in the property. It was uninhabitable," Boteach says. "I couldn't even walk over and say hello and greet my neighbors and then three months, it sprung to life."

Residents protested the stay, and the city went to court to stop all work on the property, claiming it violated building regulations.

A judge ordered crews to stop renovations outside the building. And late last week, the State Department said Colonel Gadhafi will not stay in Englewood and it does not expect to restrict his movements in the U.S.

Mayor Wildes says renovations inside the mansion are continuing and many residents fear Mr. Gadhafi may show up unannounced.

"He can go on a barge in the East River[(off Manhattan]. They can have him pitch his tent and have them float around and see the nice scenery, maybe catch some of the fall foliage," Boteach says, "but just not next to me."

Residents of Englewood are angry at Mr. Gadhafi's welcome home last month of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. He was convicted in the 1988 Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland and was serving a life sentence. Scotland released him on compassionate grounds because he has a terminal illness.

Thirty-eight of the 270 people who died in Lockerbie came from New Jersey.

"The spectacle, the nauseating stomach turning spectacle of seeing him welcome the Lockerbie bomber, the man who murdered 270 innocent people in December 1988. The fact that Gadhafi welcomed this man as a hero, Gadhafi has shown his true colors," Boteach says.

The rabbi is suing the Libyan government, Mr. Gadhafi and the construction company for trespassing. He claims the workmen damaged his property and destroyed his trees.

"They cut all these trees down," he says, "You can see the remnants of these trees. They just cut them down."

The Libyan government has denied doing anything illegal. But there has been no comment on where Colonel Gadhafi plans to stay when he arrives in the U.S. to address the General Assembly for the first time.

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