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Moammar Gadhafi in 2009
Gadhafi was known for his eccentric garbImage: dapd

Dictator data

October 20, 2011

Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi apparently died from gunshot wounds as he tried to flee his hometown of Sirte, but who was this man who ruled Libya for more than 40 years?


Little more than six months ago, Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi was convinced that his people loved him and that they would die, if necessary, trying to protect him.

By this time he had already brutally suppressed demonstrations calling for reforms; protests that ultimately ended in a relatively brief, but bitter, civil war.

By most estimates, at least 30,000 people died in the fierce fighting that ensued over the following few months.

Gadhafi repeatedly appeared on friendly television and radio stations with messages for Libya. One of them became famous in which he time and again referred to the rebels as "rats," threatening to hunt them down, street by street and house by house.

Gadhafi was born in 1942 as the son of simple Bedouins near the city of Sirte. In 1969, he was cheered as a savior - as the colonel who, together with a number of renegade military men, brought down the monarchy of Libya's King Idris.

The Gadhafi brand of democracy

Shortly afterwards, he implemented his ideas of direct democracy, introducing people's committees to decide the fate of the people and the state.

The fundamentals of his Socialist ideology were described in his so-called 'Green Book,' an idea he borrowed from the 'Little Red Book' penned by China's Mao Zedong.

Gadhafi greeting a crowd
Gadhafi thought his people loved himImage: AP

Driven by his hatred of anything colonial, Gadhafi pushed for the independence of African countries.

"Do you know Pepsi Cola? Of course, you know Pepsi Cola. And you know Coca Cola. And when you ask for Pepsi Cola or Coca Cola, then they say those are American or European drinks," Gadhafi famously said on a visit to Guinea in 2007. "But that's not true, because the ingredients come from Africa. They bought these ingredients cheaply, processed them and then sold them to us at a high price. We must manufacture and sell our own cola."

Gadhafi's ideas about direct democracy and independence ended in a dictatorship in which all of his opponents were muzzled. Gadhafi and his family grew rich on Libya's oil revenues, but at the same time, helped ordinary Libyans earn one of the highest standards of living in Africa.

In one interview, his mother said that she was very proud of her son and his successes. But she added that there was one thing she could not understand: Why he always insisted that she would only then get a house instead of a Bedouin's tent after every other Libyan family had a roof over their head.

Rumors that his father was a Corsican pilot have never been confirmed.

In 2002, Gadhafi provided the decisive impetus and financing that led to the founding of the African Union. As the self-styled "king of Africa's kings," he pumped billions into infrastructure and tourism projects in friendly African countries, built roads and bridges and won the hearts of many ordinary Africans.

That is why during the rebel uprising, it was often speculated that an African country would grant him asylum.

Support for terrorism

Internationally, his biography earned dark blemishes for his support of terrorism. Groups like the Red Army Faction from Germany or Ireland's IRA trained in Libya, and Gadhafi gave aid and assistance to rebels in Chad and Ghana.

Gadhafi with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi
Many Western leaders befriended Gadhafi for Libya's oilImage: AP

Soviet weapons reached the Palestinians in transit through Libya, while numerous terrorist attacks were said to have been ordered by him, such as the bomb attack on US soldiers at the Berlin dance club, La Belle, and the mid-air bombing of a US passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The list is long, but Gadhafi always denied any involvement.

"It is very strange to look for a connection between Libya and such a sad incident. Our policies and our ethics are totally against airplane hijackings. We are opposed to such actions or even their attempt. We support the righteous struggle for freedom around the world," Gadhafi said in an interview after the violent hijacking of an Egyptian airliner enroute to Malta in 1985.

He revised his approach in 2003, renouncing the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction; the UN subsequently lifted sanctions against his country. Western leaders, from Britain's Tony Blair to Germany's Gerhard Schröder, rushed to Libya, hoping to benefit from the country's oil wealth.

During public appearances, Gadhafi always attracted attention for his conspicuous, and often eccentric and provocative, garb. At the G-8 summit in Italy in 2009, a photo of the freedom fighter Omar Mukhtar was fastened to his blazer. Mukhtar fought against the colonial influence of Italy in the 1920s and 1930s.

In one of those ironic turns of history, Mukhtar's son this spring joined the Libyan rebels – against Gadhafi.

Author: Hans-Michael Ehl (gb)
Editor: Mark Hallam

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