As politicians in Western capitals were taking quiet pleasure in the capture and killing of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi yesterday, opinions elsewhere were divided.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the Geneva Conventions had been breached with the killing of Colonel Gaddafi.
“We have to lean on facts and international laws,” Mr Lavrov said. “They say that a captured participant of an armed conflict should be treated in a certain way. And in any case, a prisoner of war should not be killed.”
Russia has been critical of Nato military action in Libya, saying that it has gone well beyond the stated mission of saving civilian life. The main concern for Moscow now is whether the new Libyan authorities will honour contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime. As well as the oil and arms trade, Russian Railways had secured a £2bn contract to construct a railway line between Sirte and Benghazi. Moscow recognised the National Transitional Council as the official government of Libya last month and said it expected all existing contracts to be honoured.
China, which like Russia abstained in the Security Council vote on whether to use force against Colonel Gaddafi’s troops, was quicker yesterday to change its tune. Beijing initially refused to support the rebels and had been highly critical of the bombing campaign. But as realities on the ground altered, in recent weeks the Chinese government had started to engage with the rebel movement.
“A new page has been turned in the history of Libya,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said yesterday. “We hope Libya will rapidly embark on an inclusive political process … and allow the people to live in peace and happiness,” she said.
A sign of the official policy change could be discerned in the language that Chinese state media used to refer to Colonel Gaddafi. Newspapers and agencies run by the state, which had previously referred to a “Middle East strongman”, had yesterday made a small but significant change to their phrasing, calling him a “madman” instead.
Reaction from other enemies of the US was varied. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described the dead dictator as a “martyr”, while Iran’s foreign ministry tried to banish any parallels between the Libyan revolution and anti-government protests at home. “Despots and oppressors throughout history have no fate other than destruction and death,” a spokesman said. He called Colonel Gaddafi’s killing a “great victory” but added that all foreign forces must now pull out of the country.
And the eccentric Russian politician Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also the head of the World Chess Federation, said that Colonel Gaddafi’s death was a “tragedy” but that he died as a martyr and would be reincarnated.
Mr Ilyumzhinov made a surreal mission to Tripoli in June, where he met with Colonel Gaddafi as an unofficial mediator and played a game of chess with him. Yesterday, he said in a Russian newspaper interview that he had spoken to the Libyan leader numerous times on the phone since. He claimed that Colonel Gaddafi had not been scared of death: “Not a bit! He believed in reincarnation.”
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