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Ten things you should know about Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

What you need to know about one of the world’s longest serving leaders.

Image: Press Association

LIBYAN LEADER MUAMMAR GADDAFI is facing the most serious threat to his four decade old rule in Libya with opposition forces taking over towns and cities in the country and international pressure building.

The uprising has been linked to similar events in Tunisia and Egypt which forced the presidents of both countries to step down in recent months.

Gaddafi has argued that because he is not president he cannot resign. Here are some things you should know about the longest serving leader in Africa and the Arab world:

1. 1969 Coup

At just 27 Gaddafi took power in a bloodless coup, toppling the rule of King Idris in September 1969.

He hatched plans for his coup whilst in military training and had previously received army training in Britain, according to the BBC.

Gaddafi launched the coup from Libya’s second city of Benghazi which is now said to have fallen into the control of forces who oppose his rule.

2. The Green Book

In his lengthy speech on Libyan state television earlier this week, Gaddafi held aloft and read from a green book which contains a political philosophy that all Libyans are expected to abide by.

The book was produced in three volumes in the late 1970s and presents an alternative to both socialism and capitalism combined with aspects of Islam.

As part of his revolution, in 1977 he changed the country’s name to the ‘Great Socialist Popular Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah’ (State of the Masses).

3. Bedouin ancestry

Gaddafi is part of the Bedouin desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group and takes great pride in his roots. He regularly holds meetings with foreign visitors in tents in the desert where he spends long periods of time and purports to enjoy a simple lifestyle, according to the BBC.

4. Foreign Relations

Western leaders have been almost unanimous in their condemnation of the violence in Libya and the actions of Gaddafi.

But after he relinquished his entire inventory of weapons of mass destruction in 2003, relations with the West appeared to normalise, as the New Statesman notes in this gallery of his meetings with well known world leaders including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.

5. UN

In September 2009, Gaddafi visited the US for the first time giving a speech at the UN General Assembly which lasted an hour-and-a-half and included him throwing papers from the podium in a rage at the UN charter. Check it out here.

6. Terrorism

Gaddafi is strongly associated with terrorism with widespread reports of him arming rebel groups in Colombia, Spain’s Basque region, and the IRA in Northern Ireland.

US President Ronald Reagan called him “a mad dog” in 1986 after Libya was suspected of involvement in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub that killed two American soldiers. Subsequent US  air attacks on Libya killed 35 people including Gaddafi’s adopted daughter.

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7. Lockerbie

Gaddafi has been widely linked to the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland which killed 270 people.

He reacted triumphantly to the release of the only man ever convicted of the bombing, Abdel al-Megrahi, by the Scottish government in 2009 on the grounds of ill health.

8. Israel

Gaddafi is said to have toned down his anti-Israeli rhetoric, having once called for pushing the ”Zionists” into the sea.

But as recently as 2009 he said that Israel was responsible for wars in Africa.

9. Gaddafi? al-Gaddafi? Kadafi? Qaddafi?

Confusion surrounds just how he spells his name largely because there is no universally accepted translation of Arabic names.

News outlets would normally go with what the person themselves prefers, but it appears Gaddafi likes many variations.

10. No successor

There is no obvious successor to Gaddafi if he is forced from power, reports The Guardian. Previously it had been his pro-reform, pro-Western son Saif al-Islam who was considered the most likely to succeed his father.

But on Sunday Gaddafi Jr. warned of “civil war” if unrest continued, effectively blowing his chance in the words of one analyst.

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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