Gaddafi Praises Obama at U.N.

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By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009; 6:06 PM

NEW YORK, Sept. 23 -- President Obama at the United Nations won praise from an unlikely and probably unwelcome source Wednesday: Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who was making his first appearance before the world body.

Speaking after Obama, Gaddafi had mostly harsh words for the United Nations, as he theatrically tossed aside a copy of the U.N. charter and referred to the Security Council as a "Terror Council" because of its veto power.

But when it came to America's 44th president, Gaddafi offered only warm words, calling him "our son" and "our Obama," and saying, "The election of Obama is the beginning of change."

"We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as the president," Gaddafi said during a rambling, 95-minute speech during which he read from notes, exhausted at least one of his interpreters, threw the U.N. schedule into disarray, and put much of his audience to sleep.

Even Ali Abdussalam Trekim, the Libyan diplomat who introduced Gaddafi and sat behind him as chairman of the General Assembly, appeared to be dosing.

At one point, Gaddafi, dressed in a copper-colored robe adorned with a pin of the African continent, chided his audience members, saying: "You're tired. All of you are asleep."

Gaddafi's marathon remarks were not a U.N. record. Cuba's Fidel Castro holds that distinction with a 4 1/2 -hour lecture in 1960.

Gaddafi took power in a 1969 coup, but in 40 years has never addressed the United Nations. Libya only recently opened relations with the United States after agreeing to give up its nuclear program and renouncing terror.

But Gaddafi's diplomatic rapprochement with Washington did not stop hundreds of Libyan dissidents and critics -- including family members of those killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland -- from turning out to protest the Libyan leader's presence in New York.

Some of the demonstrators referred to Gaddafi's difficulties finding a place to stay in the New York area during his visit, after the town of Englewood, N.J., where Libya owns five acres of property, turned him away and several city hotels said he was not welcome. The demonstrators chanted: "Gaddafi's got no place to rent! Go back home and pitch your tent!"

There was confusion over where Gaddafi would spend the night. He stayed Tuesday night at the Libyan mission, not far from U.N headquarters.

On Wednesday, local officials in suburban Bedford, N.Y. said that a tent on Donald Trump's estate that was rented by the Libyan government for the week was being dismantled. Officials there had earlier denied permits for the huge Bedouin tent being constructed on the grounds.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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