Effort to replace Libyan embassy flag in District is stymied

Demonstrators gather at the Libyan Embassy to display the pre-Gaddafi flag and show support for the anti-Gaddafi uprising in Libya.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 10:40 PM

Washington area Libyan Americans hoping to replace the Libyan Embassy's flag on Tuesday failed to gain access to the building but were elated when members of Congress entered and found a pro-opposition ambassador still apparently at his job.

Brandishing the green, black and red flag of the former monarchy, two dozen protesters railed against embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. They also criticized the State Department, which they believed had recognized a Gaddafi loyalist appointed to replace Ali Aujali, the ambassador who last week called on Gaddafi to resign.

Aujali resigned last week, but a statement from a senior State Department official on Tuesday said that he "continues as Head of Mission at this time." The official added that the department had received "a fax from the Libyan government regarding its representation in Washington, and we are still reviewing its authenticity."

During the protest, Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II (Mo.), John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Tex.), Donald M. Payne (N.J.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.) met with Aujali at the embassy to deliver a message of support for anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.

Jackson Lee said afterward that Aujali still appeared to be performing his duties as ambassador.

"It seems he is moving around freely as a representative in the United States," she said. "There was no sense that he was diminished, isolated or could not speak freely. . . . He made it very clear that any information that we gave him, he had the ability to transmit it to the present government."

The Libyan Embassy is at 2600 Virginia Ave. NW. No flag could be seen from the street Tuesday, and Jackson Lee said she did not recall seeing one inside.

Aly Abuzaakouk, a spokesman for the protesters, said they were surprised to see Aujali step outside to greet them after the meeting. Rumors earlier in the day said that he remained in his residence, that embassy locks had been changed and that a lower-level official who supported Gaddafi was now in charge.

It was not clear whether that official was inside the embassy.

Abuzaakouk said that he thought the green flag of the Gaddafi government was still on display inside but that getting rid of it seemed less urgent now that he knew Aujali was still in the embassy.

"We will do it," said Abuzaakouk, a Burke resident who is executive director of a Virginia-based pro-democracy organization and has been in the United States since 1969. "Sooner or later, we will get rid of the megalomaniac and all of the symbols that he represents."

Last week, Aujali changed the flag at his official residence.

Protester Kadija Sherif, who came to the United States from Libya 35 years ago, said the green flag represents Gaddafi's "crazy thoughts."

Pointing at the pre-Gaddafi flag, she said: "This is the flag that we had when we had an organized government, a king, government, parliament and rules. But ever since this coup, when they took over, it has been a jungle in this country."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company