News / Middle East

Libyan Leader Known for His Eccentricities and Ruthless Rule

This image broadcast on Libyan state television Feb. 22, 2011, shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as he addresses the nation in Tripoli
This image broadcast on Libyan state television Feb. 22, 2011, shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as he addresses the nation in Tripoli

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has ruled his north African nation since 1969.  He is known for his eccentricities and ruthless rule.  Now, despite massive protests, the 68-year-old leader refuses to leave and he says he will die a martyr.

As a young military officer, Moammar Gadhafi led a coup against the reigning king and set up the Libyan Arab Republic. In the 1970s, he tried to unite Libya, Egypt and Syria as the Federation of Arab Republics and throughout his 42-year rule, he has been an irritant to the West.

Ian Lesser advised former President Bill Clinton on north African affairs.  "We’ve seen over years rapid shifts from Libya, focusing on Arab-Israeli affairs, to the region, to Africa.  At one point Libya is an African country, then it’s a Middle Eastern country.  Then it’s a global actor, then it’s inward looking. There are these rapid shifts," he said.



U.S. and Libyan tension rose in the 1980s.  The U.S. held Libya responsible for the bombing of a West Berlin disco, frequented by the American military, and the two countries battled over access to the Gulf of Sidra.  Describing Mr. Gadhafi, President Ronald Reagan called him "The mad dog of the Middle East."

The U.S. retaliated for the Berlin incident by bombing a Gadhafi compound. He escaped, but his adopted baby daughter died. 

In the late 1980s, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270, many of them Americans.  Years later, Libya would accept responsibility for the bombing and agree to monetary settlements.  

A Libyan national was sentenced to 27 years in prison for the act, but when he was released on humanitarian grounds, Mr. Gadhafi greeted him as a celebrity.

Now protesters emboldened by Egypt's recent uprisings, are challenging the Libyan leader's rule, and he is losing the support of key government figures.

Ali Aujali is the Libyan ambassador to the U.S. "I resign from serving the current dictatorship regime, But I will never resign from serving our people until their voices reach the whole world. I am calling for him to go and leave our people alone," he said.

Moammar Gadhafi spoke on state TV and said he will stay in Libya and die a martyr.

He raised theThe Green Book  that he wrote about his political philosophy. The books are free at Libyan embassies around the world.  The first part is called The Solution fo the Problem of Democracy."  

Aly Abuzaakouk is a Libyan human rights activist in Northern Virginia. Protesters in Libya called him as he watched Mr. Gadahfi on TV. "This is his last hurrah. His last speech.  He won't have anything else to say because he is living outside history. He's not in history anymore," he said.

But he is still in charge in Libya, even if, as some analysts say, he is detached from reality.


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an award-winning television reporter who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.  She has won an Emmy, many Associated Press awards, and a Clarion for her coverage of Haiti,  national politics, the southern economy, and the 9/11 bombing anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Syrian medical crisis and the Asiana plane crash, and was VOA’s chief reporter from the Boston Marathon bombing.

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