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Opinion: Gadhafi's About Face Could Bring Political Change to Libya

The EU rolled out the red carpet for Moammar Ghadafi's visit to Brussels Tuesday. While their leader's rapprochement with the international community is welcome, ultimately the Libyans must decide what to do with him.

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He's been everything but an angel in the past.

Nobody knows how many people were tortured to death in his prisons, driven crazy or mentally scarred: Moammar Gadhafi is an unscrupulous autocrat, a dictator. He led Libya into international isolation. Thanks to his ideological blindness, his absurd sense of mission and his expensive forays into foreign policy, resource-rich Libya faces growing poverty and unemployment. Gadhafi wants to get out of the sidelines; he wants his country to again become a fully-fledged member in the international community.

The 62-year-old revolution leader is making a virtue of necessity. The international sanctions, which started in the early 1990s, brought the 5.5 million Libyans losses of up to $30 billion (€25.2 billion) and badly hurt the Libyan economy, above all, the oil industry. Without a radical change of course, Colonel Gadhafi recognized, he would never have been able to break the headlock.

So Gadhafi radically changed course. Libya took responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. Libya abandoned its programs to produce mass weapons of destruction. Libya developed -- to the delight of London and even more so of Washington -- into a new partner in the Arab world. In Iraq, in Palestine, in Saudi Arabia and in Syria -- the Americans' dream of a changing Middle East aren't a reality anywhere. Of all people, arch enemy Gadhafi must make George W. Bush's campaigning heart beat faster.

Peaceful means prevailed

Still, the Bush administration should bear one thing in mind: Threats of violence didn't cause Gadhafi to rethink -- diplomatic tenacity, painful sanctions and economic pressure did. The approach to the so-called "rogue state" Libya is an example much more worth copying than the approach to "rogue state" Iraq that is bogged down by chaos and violence.

Libya is returning to the fold of the international community, which is both good and important. The EU as Libya's most important trade partner and a geographical neighbor should help yesterday's pariah with its rehabilitation, if for no other reason than out of self-interest. Libya is important as an additional energy supplier and can help to stem illegal immigration from Africa.

But the EU shouldn't let Gadhafi the autocrat off the hook or give him absolution. Gadhafi should be called to account for what he has done, but by his own people -- if they want to. The better Libya is integrated into the international community, the greater the chances that the Libyans will be able to demand and develop their political majority.

Reinhard Baumgarten, Cairo correspondent for German public broadcaster ARD (ncy)

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