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Muammar al- Qaddafi

(b. 1942)

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Libyan statesman and colonel, chairman of the Revolutionary Council (1969–77) and president of Libya (1977–2011).

Born in Sirte, the son of a nomadic family, Gaddafi received a traditionally Islamic education at preparatory school in Fezzan and attended secondary school in Misurata, from which he was expelled for political agitation. He started to read history at the University of Libya in 1962, but gave up the following year to join the Benghazi Military Academy. Inspired by General Nasser, who symbolized Arab renaissance to him, Gaddafi formed the Free Officers Movement, a group modelled on the organization set up by Nasser for revolution in Egypt. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps in 1965, he was sent on a training course to England in 1966 to learn English and advanced signals procedures. In 1969, following his failure to receive a promotion to captain, Gaddafi used the Free Officers Movement to execute a carefully planned bloodless coup, overthrowing the regime of King Idris (1890–1983) and proclaiming the Libyan Arab Republic. Assuming the role of chairman of the ten-member revolutionary council, he promoted himself to colonel and became commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He was promoted to the rank of major-general in 1976, but preferred to keep the title of colonel. He was appointed president in 1977.

Preoccupied with a dream of Arab unity, Gaddafi was critical of governments he claimed were opposed to this goal while actively supporting dissident groups within these countries. This policy has led to military conflict against Chad (1982–88) and Libyan involvement in various terrorist campaigns, especially against Israel and various western powers. In retribution for Gaddafi's support for terrorism, US planes bombed Tripoli and Benghazi from British bases in 1986. Gaddafi subsequently toned down his rhetoric against the West, signalling a new era of pragmatism. However, his refusal to permit the extradition of two Libyans suspected of involvement in the bombing of a US passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 caused further friction and led to the imposition of US sanctions in 1992. At the end of 2003, Gaddafi announced that he would destroy Libya's weapons of mass destruction and in the following years further sanctions were lifted and diplomatic relations were re-established with many western nations. Following the ‘Arab spring’ uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, popular protest against his regime began in February 2011, most effectively in Benghazi. With UN-approved NATO aerial protection, the protesters resisted military attack from the regime's troops. In August 2011 Tripoli fell and in October Gaddafi was killed, in disputed circumstances, as his final bastion of Sirte was overwhelmed.

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