Struggling Libyan reformer seeks Lockerbie boost

Tue Sep 15, 2009 8:52am GMT

By Tom Pfeiffer

RABAT (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's reformist son is trying to use the homecoming of the Lockerbie bomber to boost his waning prestige but is being rebuffed by powerful conservatives close to his father.

The Western-leaning Saif al-Islam has sought to rebuild his profile after a year during which he faded from public view and his brother Mutassim, viewed by some observers as a rival for power, grew in influence.

When Abdel Basset al-Megrahi returned to Libya after serving eight years in a Scottish prison, Islam was at his side in a stage-managed spectacle that angered Western governments which accused Tripoli of giving a hero's welcome to a convicted killer.

Islam had switched his usual sharp Western suit for a traditional Libyan white robe and golden embroidered vest.

He said Megrahi's release had been a condition of business deals struck with Britain, a comment which jarred with his usual emphasis on free trade and transparency.

"My hunch is Saif is trying to curry favour with a group which he thought in the past he could bypass," said Dirk Vandewalle, a Libya expert and professor at Dartmouth College in the United States. "He might have found out that he is not as powerful as he expected."

Islam played an important role in bringing oil producer Libya out of international isolation when it gave up banned weapons and paid compensation to the Lockerbie victims.

He has been portrayed in Western media as a rising star who can shake up Libya's ossified elite, champion transparency and press freedom, and one day step into his father's shoes.   Continued...

<p>Abdel Basset al-Megrahi sits in a wheelchair in his room at a hospital in Tripoli September 9, 2009. REUTERS/Ismail Zetouny</p>
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