Aug. 22 - A look back at the Arab world's longest serving leader. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
Muammar Gaddafi first entered the world stage in September 1969 when he led junior army officers in toppling King Idris in a bloodless military coup. One of his first tasks was building up the armed forces, but he also spent billions improving living standards, making him popular with the poor. Inspired by Arab nationalist sentiments he abandoned ties with Western powers and pursued aims of uniting Arab countries -- instigating the Arab Federation with Syria and Egypt in 1971 which soon broke down in argument and recrimination. Gaddafi's relations with the West, became increasingly strained leading to accusations in 1986 that he sent agents to blow up a Berlin club frequented by American marines. The U.S. responded with air raids hitting one of Gaddafi's homes and killing his adopted daughter. Gaddafi designed a political system of local congresses where people were allowed to air their views and appoint representatives to the General People's Congress. Critics dismissed this move saying the Congress was dedicated to maintaining power and wealth in Gaddafi's hands. He poured money into projects like the Great Man-Made River, a scheme to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. The project, which Gaddafi has described as the eighth wonder of the world, is estimated to have cost 20 billion dollars. When Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish village of Lockerbie in December 1988, killing two hundred and seventy people, Western intelligence agencies were quick to point the finger of blame at the Gaddafi regime. UN Council sanctions following the bombing crippled Libya's economy but did not appear to dampen Gaddafi's revolutionary spirit and his anti-capitalist, anti-Western rhetoric. Former South African President Nelson Mandela played a key role in persuading Gaddafi to surrender two Libyan nationals suspected of involvement in the bombing. A specially convened Scottish Court found Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi guilty of mass murder sentencing him to 27 years in prison, he was freed ahead of fufilling the term on health grounds. Gaddafi's quirky style was legendary -- once pitching a tent Cairo's presidential compound, on a visit. He also ignored traditions of his conservative society, surrounding himself with women bodyguards toting assault rifles. He frequently criticized Arab leaders, attacking Saudi Arabia in 2003 for hosting thousands of U.S. troops since the 1991 Gulf War. Later in 2003 he caught the world by surprise announcing plans abandon its weapons of mass destruction program. The announcement drew swift praise from London and Washington and an end to international isolation, with the U.S. and U.K. ending a broad trade embargo, and resuming full diplomatic relations. In June 2009 Gaddafi arrived in Rome for a four day visit, his first trip to Libya's former colonial ruler where he was welcomed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In 2009 in his first visit to the U.S. since he taking power 40 years ago, Gaddafi accused major powers on the U.N.'s Security Council of betraying the principles of the U.N. charter. Gaddafi never held an official state position and was known simply as "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution". Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters.