September 1, 2009 6:30 pm

Gaddafi throws 40th anniversary party

Dancers rehearse in an open-air theatre in Tripoli©Getty

Dancers rehearse in an open-air theatre in Tripoli

Libya has pulled out all the stops to throw a party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the coup which brought its leader, Colonel Muammer Gaddafi to power.

The row with Britain and the United States over the welcome given to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Magrahi, the released Lockerbie bomber was not allowed to dampen the event intended by the Libyan leader to demonstrate his authority and international influence both at home and abroad.

The “brotherly leader of the revolution,” as he likes to be described, has been cultivating a personality cult ever since he came to power. No slogan appears to be too extravagant for the celebratory billboards which dot the streets of the city. Some describe his rule as “eternal spring”, others as “a string of victories.”

The Libyan capital has been preparing for weeks. Buildings in the centre have been whitewashed, the streets have been decked with green flags. The unlined face of a much-younger Mr Gaddafi adorns billboards, against a background of pictures of the historical figures he most admires. These include Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

If Libyans disagree with these descriptions, no one is making an outcry. This is not a country where dissidence is tolerated. Some people murmur privately that the leader is throwing millions at his party, while they make do with tiny salaries and poor services. They may complain they should be as prosperous as citizens of oil producers in the Gulf. But they know to keep quiet in public because as one of Mr Gaddafi’s more famous slogans goes: “Democracy is not popular expression.”

Intended to celebrate Libya from the dawn of history to modern times under Mr Gaddafi’s ”great revolution”, Tuesday’s party will feature horses, flame dancers, military bands and lasers. To top off the event, there will be a fireworks display launched from ships off the coast of Tripoli.

The climax will be a grand spectacle performed by hundreds of French dancers on a specially-erected open air stage in the shape of a massive tent—a symbol close to the heart of Mr Gaddafi who likes to underline his Bedouin origins.

Dignitaries from all over the world have been invited, though most western leaders are staying away. Their countries, however, will be represented, as no one wants to snub the North African country which is a key energy supplier to Europe, and a source of lucrative contracts to western companies working across a range of sectors.

A contingent of African heads of states has flown into Tripoli to mark the big day with Mr Gaddafi. Not only has he been elected head of the African Union during its last session, but last year he was proclaimed by African traditional chiefs King of all African Kings . Mr Gaddafi has also poured billions into various African countries to promote his vision of a united continent with one army and one currency

The guests at today’s bash are expected to include figures who are not welcome in western capitals such as Hugo Chavez , president of Venezuela and Mohamed Umar Al Bashir, the Sudanese leader, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The Libyans have laid on a spectacular program, including a military parade with the participation of troops from African countries. An air acrobatics show by an elite Italian team remains in doubt just hours before it is due to start because the Libyans are insisting the planes trail vapour in green, their national colour, while the Italians want to trail the red, white and green of their flag.

The controversy has reached right up to Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister who has said there would be no air show unless the Italian colours are featured.

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