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Gaddafi: The mercurial and eccentric strongman

Tripoli: Born in a desert near Sirte in 1942, Muammar Gaddafi, the mercurial and eccentric strongman, was the longest-serving leader in both Africa and the Arab world, having ruled Libya since he toppled King Idris I in a coup at the age of 27.

Since the bloodless military coup in 1969, Gaddafi, known for his flamboyant dressing style and gun-toting female bodyguards as much as for his iron clasp over the country, styled himself as the country`s "brother leader" and the "guide of the revolution."

His name was synonymous with almost every facets of the life of Libya`s about six million inhabitants. His relationship with the world has seen some very dark phase. Former US president Ronald Reagan had once called him a "mad dog".

Gaddafi was blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that left 270 people dead. For years Libya denied, but in 2003, the country accepted responsibility and agreed to pay up USD 10 million to relatives of victims and thus Gaddafi bought a ticket to befriend the world, which till then considered the oil rich country as pariah.

He had also vowed to dismantle all weapons of mass destruction. But back home, the Libyan leader projected himself as the spiritual guide of the nation and brought in what he said was a different version of direct democracy.

However in reality, Gaddafi ruled with an iron hand and all dissents have been ruthlessly crushed. Even the media remained under strict state control. .
The Gaddafi regime has been accused of imprisoning hundreds of people for violating his laws and sentenced some to death. Torture and disappearances were frequently reported.

His tough character can be gauged from a statement that he gave soon after the latest rebellion, that ousted him from power. In a televised speech, Gaddafi vowed to hunt down protesters "inch by inch, room by room, home by home, alleyway by alleyway." On the global front, Gaddafi first focused on Arab world and later shifted his eye to Africa. He played an important role in organising Arab opposition to the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

But however, later shunned by various Arab states, especially for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Gaddafi`s foreign policy focus shifted to Africa. Gaddafi proposed a "United States of Africa" – an idea first thought of by US pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey – in which the continent would include "a single African military force, a single currency and a single passport for Africans to move freely around the continent".

But besides all his toughness and controversies, Gaddafi was also known as a flamboyant man. Known for his highly decorative military dresses and caps, his noodle hair was his trademark. Whenever he travelled out of the country, he is known to be more flamboyant. On foreign trips, instead of staying at five star hotels, he has set up camp in a luxury tent and is accompanied by armed female bodyguards. Some of the pictures taken of his palace here, after he was ousted, shows Gaddafi`s opulence and the extravagant life that he led.

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