Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gathafi wants to hand oil wealth to poor people

AL-BAIDA, Libya Libyan leader says nobody can 'steal power from the people' after son's comments. Libya Friday celebrates the 37th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the monarchy with Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi said he would not let anyone "steal power from the people" as his son who called for an end to the revolutionary era. "We will not allow anyone to steal power from the people," Gathafi said in a two-hour speech Thursday to officials at Al-Baida, 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) east of Tripoli, on the eve of the anniversary of his ousting of King Idris. "When we led the revolution we did not want power for ourselves, but we assumed it for the people," he declared. "In consequence, we will not allow anyone to steal it from the people." Libya is celebrating the 37th anniversary of the coup that then captain and now Colonel Gathafi and a group of fellow army officers led against King Idris I. Gathafi developed his famous "third way," a mix of capitalism and socialism. Under it, he takes the strategic decisions, with their implementation left to elected Popular Committees. But in a nationally televised speech 10 days ago, Gathafi's son, Seif al-Islam, broke a taboo by calling for an end to the "revolutionary era." Seif often handles public relations and diplomatic roles for the "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution" and has been mentioned as a possible successor to his father, something he denies. He lamented the fact that there was no "people power" in Libya as called for by the "Green Book" penned by his father 30 years ago, which spells out the elder Gathafi's political ideology. The Libyan leader Thursday suggested that state oil enterprises should be handed over to "poor Libyans so that they might become rich." The oil companies "are controlled by foreigners and they have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money," Gathafi said. In a blistering indictment of the state of Libyan society and its economy, Seif had said: "Let's stop kidding ourselves that we are living in a paradise, one in which public sector officials act as though they own the companies they manage. "The beneficiaries of this chaos are a group of state employees and big wigs united in an unholy alliance resembling a mafia." After decades of thumbing his nose at the West, flirting with the Soviet Union, pushing the pan-Arab agenda, supporting national liberation groups and allegedly engaging in terrorism, Gathafi made a major U-turn in December 2003. He renounced his program to develop weapons of mass destruction and vowed to bring his nation back into the world fold, paying compensation to victims of airline bombings for which Libya had been accused. He also opened the door to badly needed foreign investment in a country that lives primarily from its oil revenues but whose industrial infrastructure is out of date. Since 2000, Libya has been working to dismantle the command economy adopted in the 1970s and replace it with a market economy. With unemployment running at around 13 percent last year, and half the population under the age of 20, Libya is in desperate need of investment to stimulate growth. But in March, prime minister Shukri Ghanem, whose liberal government has been highly critical of the Popular Committees, was forced out of office. The committees had attacked his plans for privatisation, freezing salaries and scrapping subsidies on essential products. Ghanem's successor, Baghdadi Mahmudi, vowed to press ahead with the economic reforms launched by his predecessor and make a priority of tackling unemployment. Mahmudi said he had a "new vision for the development of banks, notably the opening of the sector to private and foreign banks to boost investments and give a fillip to the country's economy". But Seif al-Islam, who called for moving "from the revolution to a state" and adopting a proper constitution, clearly does not think matters are moving fast enough. According to a recent official report, only 38 billion dollars of the 50 billion earmarked for development projects between 1970 and 2003 had actually been spent. Seif called for a "determined pursuit of the privatisation of enterprises, notably telecoms and banks, and opening the doors to the installation of foreign banks from next year." And he criticised the political system. "The democratic system we are dreaming of does not exist," he said. "Because if the people truly had power, how can one explain that decisions taken in the name of the people are undermined and individuals are manhandled and imprisoned for no reason?"

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