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Saudi, Libyan leaders make up at summit

Doha, March 31, 2009

Libya and Saudi Arabia appeared to have buried the hatchet at an Arab summit in Qatar on Monday after a feud dating back to 2003, a Saudi official said.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Saudi King Abdullah held a meeting lasting around 30 minutes on the sidelines of the summit, which has been billed by its organisers as a chance to heal Arab splits over relations with the West.

The two leaders met after Gaddafi appeared to attack the octogenarian Saudi monarch at the summit's opening session, where the Libyan delivered an unscheduled speech. But the intervention ended with a call to make peace.

"It has been six years that you have been running away and scared of confrontation and I want to say 'Do not be afraid'," Gaddafi said, addressing Abdullah. "After six years, it has been proven that with ... the grave before you, it is Britain that made you and the Americans that protected you."     

Gaddafi was referring to a public argument at an Arab summit in 2003 when he accused Saudi Arabia of being responsible for bringing American troops to the region.

It was not clear if Gaddafi intentionally repeated the accusations or was explaining the incident he wanted to apologise for.

Apparently expecting another attack, Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairing the summit, shouted down the Libyan leader.

But Gaddafi, sporting sunglasses and an orange hat and robes, continued his speech in a more clearly conciliatory tone, drawing applause from delegates.

"For the sake of the (Arab) nation, I consider the personal problem between you and me to be over and I am prepared to visit you and receive a visit from you," he told the Saudi king.

Sheikh Hamad then apologised to Gaddafi for the misunderstanding and thanked him.

Gaddafi, who took power in 1969 through a military coup in the energy-rich North African state, is known for his quixotic behaviour at regional and international events.

Following the argument in 2003, Saudi Arabia claimed it had uncovered a plot to assassinate Abdullah, who was the crown prince at the time.

Some Saudi delegates at the summit said Gaddafi's appeal to put the past behind them was loaded.

He did not refer to Abdullah as "custodian of the two holy sites" -- the Saudi monarch's preferred title, in reference to Makkah and Madinah -- while calling himself "king of the kings of Africa".

Others questioned whether the king had properly heard Gaddafi's reiteration, intentional or otherwise, of the US client charge.

Libya will host next year's summit and a boycott by US-allied states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be likely if the rapprochement failed to last.

Gaddafi appeared disconnected from the proceedings, but was still capable of making jokes. Asked to make an impromptu closing speech as host of the next summit, he referred to youthful Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad -- one of the youngest Arab leaders -- as "our son, and brother, Bashar". - Reuters




Tags: Saudi Arabia | libya | gaddafi | Abdullah |

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