U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman said late Friday that a representative of the Libyan government has assured him that Moammar Gadhafi won't stay in Englewood, N.J., when he visits the U.S. next month to address the U.N. General Assembly, a visit that has sparked angry protests.
The Libyan government has been renovating an estate there ahead of Gadhafi's first U.S. visit. But he is unwelcome in New Jersey, which lost 38 residents in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The attack, which killed 270 people, is widely believed to be the work of Libyan intelligence.
Rothman said he was told of the decision to keep Gadhafi out of Englewood by former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, whose firm represents the Libyan government in Washington.
Rothman thanked the Libyan government for its help. “His appearance would have presented unnecessary safety and security issues for the residents of Englewood and the Libyan diplomats.”
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The State Department confirmed Friday that Gadhafi no longer plans to stay at the Englewood estate. However, his movements will not be restricted during his U.S. visit; it was not immediately clear where he will stay instead.
The news that Gadhafi may not stay in Englewood came as the city sought an injunction in Bergen County Superior Court to halt renovations at the estate. A hearing on the request, which would let police in the city of 28,000 stop work there, is scheduled for Monday.
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes vowed to pursue the injunction. “The Libyans have lied before, so we're still going forward,” he said.
Gadhafi angered the U.S. and Britain last week with the warm welcome given Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds because he's dying of cancer. A cheering crowd at the Tripoli airport greeted al-Megrahi, joined by Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, U.S. senators and representatives from New York and New Jersey have joined residents in protesting Gadhafi's expected stay in the upscale community about 12 miles from Manhattan.
“The one thing we do not want is Gadhafi in New Jersey,” said Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, N.J., whose 20-year-old brother, Richard Monetti, was on Pan Am Flight 103.
Gadhafi was expected to pitch a ceremonial Bedouin-style tent on the grounds for entertainment purposes after a request to erect it in Manhattan's Central Park was rejected due to logistics and security concerns, officials said.
The Libyan government, which bought the Englewood estate in 1982, has been renovating the property extensively in anticipation of Gadhafi's visit, expected to be the culmination of years of effort to repair his international image. That has included denouncing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. He has ruled the oil-rich North African kingdom since 1969.
But the New York metropolitan area remains hostile to Gadhafi. The 97 residents of New York and New Jersey killed in the Pan Am attack represent more than half the 189 Americans who died.
The four U.S. senators from New York and New Jersey, all Democrats, said they will introduce a resolution condemning al-Megrahi's release and his welcome home to Libya.