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Gadhafi Marks 30 Years in Power

source: The Associated Press


TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - Flanked by more than two dozen African leaders, a jubilant Moammar Gadhafi on Tuesday staged a massive show of force, displaying long-range missiles, warplanes and tanks at a five-hour parade marking his 30th year in power.

Dressed in a white naval military uniform and a green sash studded with gold medals, Gadhafi raised two arms in salute to his troops, pounded a clenched fist on the arm of his gilded chair as the military band played and craned his neck to watch fighter jets piloted by women officers flying low over the Mediterranean coast.

Thousands of soldiers marched in the parade, the biggest in Tripoli since the United Nations lifted its sanctions in April following Libya's handover of two suspects in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. The explosion killed 270 people, mostly Americans and Britons.

It was a tableau Gadhafi has been eager to show the world. Ostracized and isolated for seven years because of the sanctions, Gadhafi hopes to return to the international stage.

Even though only about half of the expected 46 African heads of state showed up, their presence gave him the legitimacy he needs to make his first step in that direction.

The parade was also an opportunity to display Libya's might, which commentators at the parade said was at the disposal of all countries in Africa ``to defend them against enemy attacks.''

``Africa, Africa, Africa,'' chanted Libya's Green Revolutionary Guard. ``A flaming, burning fire, Africa.''

Also present were Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Esmat Abdel Meguid, secretary-general of the Arab League.

The celebrations culminated a week of festivities marking the 30th anniversary of the coup that brought Gadhafi, then 27, to power. To coincide with the commemoration, Gadhafi opened a four-day summit of the Organization of African Unity in Tripoli on Monday that will discuss reframing the organization's charter and Gadhafi's proposal to unite Africa by promoting economic cooperation and building better transportation links.

A contingent of conscripts born in 1969, the year of the coup, jogged by shouting: ``Libya, the revolution. Unity, unity.''

Tuesday was declared a public holiday in Libya. The coastal road leading to the site of the parade in Tripoli was lined with colorful flags of the 53 OAU member states and pictures of their leaders.

Banners proclaimed that ``Africa is for Africans,'' ``The imperialist West is responsible for Africa's backwardness'' and ``Yes to the project of the United States of Africa.''

Token military contingents from 32 African countries began the parade. Thousands of Libyan troops in camouflage or olive drab uniforms followed as French-built Mirage and Russian-made MiG planes swooped in low formations over the sea.