March 5, 2009 / 2:16 PM / 10 years ago

Libya set to take tougher stand with West

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya appears set to take a tougher stand with the West after the intelligence chief was named as foreign minister and reform-minded ministers were sacked in a reshuffle, a source close to top officials said.

Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi stands before a meeting with Spain's King Juan Carlos in Tripoli January 24, 2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

But the OPEC member still wants to avoid a return to the era of isolation before leader Muammar Gaddafi’s decision to scrap weapons of mass destruction prrogrammes in 2003.

“Libya wants to push for a trial for those British government intelligence operatives involved in an attempt to assassinate Gaddafi in the 1990s and also wants to try U.S. officials for their role in attacks of Libya in 1986,” said one source close to top government officials.

“Libya hopes to succeed in this diplomatic track without returning to a similar confrontation to that before 2003,” added the source, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak to foreign media.

Political analysts said that now Gaddafi had improved ties with the West, he wanted to make clear that he would still take a strong and independent line on policy from Africa to the Middle East to global issues.

New Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, Libya’s most influential figure after Gaddafi, played a major role in ending Libya’s ostracism by convincing London and Washington that Tripoli wanted to normalise relations.

But Koussa, believed to be in his early 60s, was also an important figure in combating dissidents outside Libya in a confrontation with the West that lasted almost three decades.

Dissidents said that as envoy to London in June 1980, Koussa had made clear his approval for killing dissidents abroad.

While the improvement of relations with the West has brought foreign investment, many Libyans complain that they have seen little benefit from either that or the high oil prices in recent years.

To counter criticism of corruption in government, Gaddafi had proposed to disband the government and hand oil revenue directly to the people, but Libya’s top ruling assembly this week delayed the plan while backing it in principle.

Instead, the General People’s Congress approved a 49 billion dinars budget for this year, increasing spending by 32 percent from the year before. It also set up a council to decide on measures for implementing Gaddafi’s plan.

“The envisaged spending in the budget is the highest in the past 10 years. It is aimed to appease of anger by many Libyans who hoped to get money from the plan,” said the source.

“The spending measures would give a financial breathing space for many Libyans for one year or two,” he added.

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