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Britain Warns Libya Against Lockerbie Bomber Celebrations


The British government says it has warned Libya against celebrating the anniversary of the prison release of the Lockerbie bomber.

It's one year since Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison, and given a hero's welcome as he landed in Tripoli.

Britain's Foreign Office says a repeat of the celebratory scenes witnessed last year would be "deeply insensitive".

In an interview with the BBC, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has echoed that view.

"The reason we're against any such thing is it would be inappropriate because it would add to the suffering and anxiety of the relatives of the Lockerbie atrocity - I think that's pretty clear," he said.

Al-Megrahi was jailed by a Scottish court in 2001. He was given a 27-year sentence for his role in the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am flight that killed 270 people.

Last year Scotland freed al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds because doctors said he was dying of cancer and had only three months to live. One-year later, he is still alive.

His early release has proved deeply controversial, especially in the United States, home to many of those who were killed in the attack.

U.S. politicians have launched an investigation into the al-Megrahi case and have called on the Scottish government to release his medical records, which it has refused to do.

Rosemary Hollis is a Middle East specialist at Britain's City University. She says the negative U.S. reaction to al-Megrahi's early release is robust because there is a strong belief in al-Megrahi's guilt.

"In the U.S. there seems to be assumption that Megrahi was well and truly responsible for the appalling terrorist episode that occurred," said Hollis.

She says in Britain, the attitude is slightly different. Most people see al-Megrahi as only one character in a complex case. In Libya, she says the attitude is altogether different.

"In Libya the assumption is that Megrahi was innocent. That is how his situation was understood by the vast majority of Libyan people. Consequently, from their point of view there was something to celebrate," she said.

Observers on the ground in Libya Friday said no anniversary celebrations seemed to be taking place.

The decision to free al-Megrahi was made in Scotland. The Scottish government has stood by that decision, but the British government in London has said it believes it was a mistake.

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