Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Megrahi's Welcome Condemned by UK; Miliband Leads Criticism of Flag Waving

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Megrahi's Welcome Condemned by UK; Miliband Leads Criticism of Flag Waving

Article excerpt

Byline: Andy Philip ;Andrew Hamilton

THE Government yesterday reacted angrily to the triumphant homecoming which greeted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi on his return to Libya.

Senior ministers said the scenes of flag-waving crowds which met Megrahi as he arrived at Tripoli Airport following his release on Thursday from a Scottish prison were "distasteful".

Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned the way the Libyan government acted over the next few days would be "very significant" in determining how the rest of the world treated the former pariah state.

It was also disclosed that a planned visit to the country next month by the Duke of York could now be cancelled.

Downing Street, meanwhile, said that Gordon Brown had written to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ahead of Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds, urging him to treat the return of the terminally ill bomber with "sensitivity".

With the White House also describing the reception as "outrageous and incredibly offensive" there were indications the regime was heeding their concerns.

There was no sign of Megrahi in public yesterday, and the scenes of his jubilant homecoming were not broadcast on Libyan television.

Mr Miliband, MP for South Shields, deplored the way he was feted on his arrival, with some in the crowd waving Scottish flags in celebration of the Scottish Government decision that he should be able to return home to die.

"Obviously, the sight of a mass murderer getting a hero's welcome in Tripoli is deeply upsetting, deeply distressing, above all for the 270 families who grieve every day for the loss of their loved ones 21 years ago and also for anyone who has an ounce of humanity in them.

"I think it's very important that Libya knows - and certainly we have told them - that how the Libyan government handles itself in the next few days after the arrival of Mr Megrahi will be very significant in the way the world views Libya's re-entry into the civilised community of nations," he said.

Meanwhile Tory leader David Cameron sought to press Mr Brown on whether he supported the decision by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to free Megrahi after serving less than eight years of his life sentence. …

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