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Global Times | James Chau
Published on August 29, 2011 22:41
As Libya struggles for survival in what increasingly appears to be a post-Muammar Gaddafi era, the focus has now moved to a National Transitional Council on the brink of power, the unseemly dash to unlock billions of dollars in assets the country needs to function and the support of the Western powers who did so much to hurry the downfall of the world's most famous colonel.

Lost in the acres of news coverage is a forgotten heroine whose death almost 30 years before helped trigger the regime change we have just witnessed. In April 1983, British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was sent with her colleagues to guard a protest outside the Libyan Embassy in London. Anti-Gaddafi activists faced off in an angry slur of words against the loyalists camped on the other side of the metal barriers. Meanwhile, Libyan diplomats blaring music to drown out the dissenters below added a touch of black comedy.

That's not the only thing they blared for events turned to tragedy when gunshots fired without warning from an Embassy window. Fletcher suffered fatal injuries and the image of her police helmet on the ground as she was rushed to hospital was replayed on the front cover of newspapers all over the world.

Fletcher's death persuaded the UK to support the 1986 US attack on Tripoli and triggered a rash of violence linked to the Libyan leadership. First, there was the West Berlin discotheque bombing in which two US servicemen were killed. Then the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over a small Scottish town called Lockerbie that turned the tide against Gaddafi forever.

Today, as the Libyan people look forward to the possibilities brought by a new political landscape, their celebrations are tempered by the even stronger threat that their country can descend into a failed state. They will also have to choose who to believe. Will they give amnesty to individuals who remained by Gaddafi's side to the very end? Will they allow Gaddafi aides who only switched sides at the 11th hour to play a part in the reconciliation process?

The more urgent question is why the countries that led a righteous crusade against Gaddafi, and rightly or wrongly are now triumphing in his defeat, are the very same that up until recently were busy trying to be his friends?

The Libyan leader waged a not-so-quiet campaign in the 1990s to woo the international community. He handed over Aldelbaset al-Megrahi to be tried for the Lockerbie bombing and paid out $2.7 billion in compensation to his victims' families.

The money must have worked because by the 2000s he had won a place at the world's top table.

At the official dinner for the G8 Summit, Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano placed him to his right, with US President Barack Obama to his left. Pictures of Gaddafi in the papers no longer showed him threatening death and destruction, but instead shaking hands with world leaders.

Obama was one, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was another and French President Nicolas Sarkozy yet another. Meantime, the Libyan leader's admitted obsession with former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was evidenced by the discovery last week of an affectionate scrapbook of clippings exclusively of the former US Secretary of State.

As recently as November of last year, 15 months after the controversial celebrations of al-Megrahi's return to Libya and just three months before the breakout of protests calling for his removal, Gaddafi was photographed hunkered down in talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez at the EU-Africa Summit in Tripoli.

If a picture tells a thousand words, then this one clearly sends a message that major politicians, desperate to dismiss their recent and willing courting, are victims of a convenient, collective amnesia.

Forget Gaddafi, just don't forget the people of Libya.

The author is a CCTV news anchor and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador. james@james-chau.com