Once 'king of kings', now on the run

In that first and only appearance before the UN General Assembly, in 2009, Moammar Gadhafi rambled on about jet lag and swine flu, about the John F Kennedy assassination and about moving the UN to Libya, the vast desert nation he had ruled for four decades with an iron hand. As dismayed UN delegates streamed out of the great domed hall that autumn day, a fuming Gadhafi declared their Security Council “should be called the 'Terror Council”, and tore up a copy of the UN charter.

The bizarre, 96-minute rant by Libya’s ‘Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution’ may now stand as a fitting denouement to a bizarre life, coming less than two years before Gadhafi’s people rose up against him, before some in that UN audience turned their warplanes on him, before lieutenants abandoned him one by one, including the very General Assembly president, fellow Libyan Ali Treki, who in 2009 glowingly welcomed his “king” to the New York podium.

As rebels swarmed into Tripoli late Sunday, Gadhafi’s rule was all but over, even though some loyalists continued to resist.

More than any of the region’s autocratic leaders, perhaps, Gadhafi was a man of contrasts.

He was a sponsor of terrorism who condemned the Sept 11 attacks. He was a brutal dictator who bulldozed a jail wall to free political prisoners. He was an Arab nationalist who derided the Arab League. And in the crowning paradox, he preached people power, only to have his people take to the streets and take up arms in rebellion.

For much of a life marked by tumult, eccentricities and spasms of violence, the only constants were his grip on power — never openly challenged until the last months of his rule — and the hostility of the West, which branded him a terrorist long before Osama bin Laden emerged.

Gadhafi was born in 1942 in the central Libyan desert, the son of a Bedouin father who was once jailed for opposing Libya’s Italian colonialists. The young Gadhafi seemed to inherit that rebellious nature, being expelled from high school for leading a demonstration, and disciplined while in the army for organising revolutionary cells.
In 1969, as a mere 27-year-old captain, he emerged as leader of a group of officers who overthrew King Idris’ monarchy. A handsome, dashing figure in uniform and sunglasses, he took undisputed power and became a symbol of anti-Western defiance in a Third World recently liberated from its European colonial rulers.

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