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Gaddafi is eccentric but the firm master of his regime, WikiLeaks cables say

Moammar Gaddafi has ruled Libya for more than 40 years. Now, he is strongly rejecting opposition demands that he give up power, as anti-government demonstrators continue to push for his ouster.

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Gaddafi's health and personal appearance were common subjects of embassy analysis. A June 16, 2009, cable discussed speculation that Gaddafi had throat cancer and diabetes but dismissed the reports as "unreliable." It did conclude that he was a "hypochondriac" who ordered that all his physical exams be videotaped so he could review them with a variety of trusted doctors.

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The same cable said some of Gaddafi's health problems could be attributed to his "extremely vain" personality. While some sources in Tripoli had whispered to embassy officials that Gaddafi's loss of control of his facial muscles was evidence he had suffered a stroke, others rejected that analysis, saying it was merely the result of excessive Botox treatments.

In addition, Gaddafi's scraggly hairline was blamed on a botched hair implant sometime in 2008 or 2009. The cable explained that he "suffered a rare auto-immune reaction to the procedure and the plugs had to be removed."

Of Gaddafi's eight children, several hold positions of influence. The embassy cables, however, concentrate their attention on two sons: Muatassim, the national security adviser, and Saif al-Islam, a British-educated engineer, who have been considered the most likely candidates to succeed their father as ruler.

Muatassim is derided in the cables as a shallow thinker who is not "intellectually curious" but has the support of many old-guard figures in Libya's security establishment. Saif al-Islam is presented as an urbane sophisticate who is much more comfortable meeting with Western businessmen and diplomats. Both sons, however, along with everyone else in Libya, are often left guessing at their father's true intentions, according to a November 2009 cable authored by Cretz.

"Qadhafi has placed his sons," he wrote, "on a succession high wire act, perpetually thrown off balance, in what might be a calculated effort by the aging leader to prevent any one of them from authoritatively gaining the prize."

Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.

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