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Moammar Gadhafi: Portrait of a Strongman

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Moammar Gadhafi is a career soldier and political leader who has ruled as the head of Libya's government since 1969.

A strong believer in autocratic government, he trained at military schools in Libya, Greece, and the United Kingdom. His greatest military triumph came on September 1, 1969, when he and a small group of soldiers took over the government, while King Idris was receiving medical treatment in Turkey. Gadhafi's group put Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan, the king's nephew, under house arrest and announced the existence of the Libyan Arab Republic. Gadhafi named himself as the leader of the country, and he has held that title since then, also serving as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

His philosophy of government — the problems with democracy and the need for a strong hand at the top — can be found in The Green Book, which he published in 1975.

Under Gadhafi, Libya has sought to make a name for itself on the world stage, seeking inter-governmental agreements with Egypt, Syris, and Sudan. Gadhafi also voiced his support for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Libya also announced a sometimes close relationship with the U.S.S.R. and received MiG fighter jets in return.

Gadhafi has been known to be an advocate of anti-Western groups and policies, and he is suspected to have been, at some level, involved in both the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed near Lockerbie, Scotland. In recent years, he has announced his support for the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and for the Somali pirates.

On the other hand, Gadhafi was outspoken in his condemnation of al-Qaeda following the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, and volunteered to liquidate large parts of his country's arms arsenal; in return, he was granted the right to address the United Nations General Assesmbly, in September 2009.

Above all, Gadhafi can be seen as a Muslim leader. Alcohol and gambling are not permitted, in accordance with Islamic law. He has promoted the cause of Islam in other nearby countries, leading to allegations of involvement with coup attempts in neighbors Egypt and Sudan.

Oddly, Gadhafi, a student of astronomy, recently ordered his country to build the 10-million-euro Libyan National Telescope Project, a remote-controlled robotic telescope that will be part of North Africa's largest astronomical observatory.

The 2011 protests are not the first signs of political dissent. Members of the Libyan armed forces attempted to assassination Gadhafi in 1993. Generally, though, calls for a more representative government have been met with violence .


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