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Libya's Gaddafi lectures US on democracy

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NEW YORK, Mar 24 (Reuters) Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi lectured a US audience on democracy and said Libya is the only real democracy in the world.

Via a video link, Gaddafi yesterday addressed an unprecedented gathering of US and Libyan academics prompted by a thaw in relations since the former pariah state decided in 2003 to abandon nuclear weapons and took responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

He touted Libya's political system as superior to ''farcical'' and ''fake'' parliamentary and representative democracies in the West.'' ''There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet,'' Gaddafi said to the conference at Columbia University in New York.

Libya's Jamahiriyah system, under which Libyans can air their views at ''people's congresses,'' is genuine democracy, said Gaddafi, who spoke through a translator and was dressed in purple robes and seated at a desk in front of a map of Africa.

The US Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook describes Libya's government as: ''Jamahiriyah (a state of the masses) in theory, governed by the populace through local councils; in fact, a military dictatorship.'' Gaddafi said Libya's new openness would not lead Libyans to covet what they do not have -- on the contrary, he said, the rest of the world would soon be emulating Libya.

''Countries like the United States, India, China, the Russian Federation, are in bad need of this Jamahiriyah system,'' he said. ''This is a savior to them.'' Challenged by the US moderator about freedom of speech, Gaddafi said every Libyan was free to express his opinions at the congresses and that was a better forum than a newspaper.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of two US moderators, said some of Gaddafi's comments might have sounded jarring to Americans.

''One of the hard things when you haven't talked to somebody for more than 30 years is we don't really understand how we sound to them and they don't understand how they sound to us,'' he said. ''We obviously have a way to go until we're speaking the same language.'' Reuters DH VP0425

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