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September 3, 2009

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Brown tries to deflect heat over al-Megrahi

BRITAIN'S prime minister sought yesterday to beat back criticism surrounding the release of the Lockerbie bomber, insisting that he gave no assurances to Libya's leaders that the bomber would be freed in exchange for oil contracts.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he offered no promises to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi over the fate of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Al-Megrahi is the only person convicted in the bombing, which killed 270 people.
"There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil, no attempt to instruct Scottish ministers, no private assurances by me to Colonel Gadhafi," Brown said. "We made absolutely clear to the Libyans and everybody else that this was a decision for the Scottish government."
Brown has been deluged with criticism since Scotland freed al-Megrahi, who is terminally ill with cancer, on compassionate grounds last month. Reporters have dogged his every appearance with questions on the controversy, and his statement followed the release of confidential British documents about discussions regarding al-Megrahi.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband confirmed details that emerged in the documents that suggested Britain had not sought to have al-Megrahi serve out his life sentence in a Scottish prison.
"We did not want him to die in prison, no, we weren't seeking his death in prison," Miliband told the BBC yesterday.
Miliband did not elaborate, but any death in custody might have raised suspicions among some in the Arab world of state involvement in al-Megrahi's death.
Miliband's remarks, and the release of the documents on Tuesday, offered the first formal indication of the British government's thoughts on the release. The government had previously refused to be drawn into the issue, saying it was up to the government in Scotland to decide on its own justice issues.
Britain has regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are responsible for local issues but retains power over foreign policy.
Al-Megrahi, 57, was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 for the explosion, Britain's worst terrorist attack. Scotland freed him on compassionate grounds on August 20 after doctors said he had terminal cancer.


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