European govts avoid Kadhafi bash

TRIPOLI: European governments denied on Thursday claims by Libyan organisers that they are to send top leaders to celebrations in Tripoli for the 40th anniversary of Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

France denied claims that President Nicolas Sarkozy would attend, and Russia said President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would also stay away.

An official in Sarkozy's office said the president would be represented at the festivities by an official "of a rank which has yet to be decided."

Sarkozy welcomed Kadhafi to Paris in 2007, five months after France helped negotiate the release of a group of Bulgarian nurses who were being held in a Libyan jail, and France has been cautiously developing ties.

"President Medvedev was invited to attend the ceremony in Libya but his agenda was already fixed and he will not go to Libya," a source in the Russian presidential administration told the Interfax news agency.

"On September 1, Vladimir Putin will be in Gdansk at the invitation of Poland (to mark the outbreak of World War II). This visit has been agreed in advance," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax.

Rome confirmed that Berlusconi is to travel to Tripoli on Sunday but said the visit was to mark the first anniversary of a friendship treaty under which Italy invests in its former colony as compensation for imperial exactions.

It said there would be no official Italian representation at the Kadhafi anniversary commemorations.

US bugbear President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has announced that he will attend the celebrations in Libya of the September 1, 1969 coup that brought Kadhafi to power, overthrowing a Western-backed monarchy which gave Britain and the United States military base rights in the oil-rich North African country.

Many African leaders are also expected to attend despite the sharp downturn in Libya's relations with the West sparked by the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, the only person ever convicted of the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed 270 people.

They will be in Libya in any case for an extraordinary summit on Monday of the 53-nation African Union, of which Kadhafi was elected chairman in February.

Scottish authorities freed the terminally ill Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

The decision was taken over the strong opposition of Washington and sparked outrage among Congressmen and relatives of the US victims. Britain reacted angrily to the hero's welcome accorded to the convicted bomber.