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US star electrifies Libyans on raid anniversary

Written by: Staff
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TRIPOLI, Apr 15 (Reuters) With Muammar Gaddafi's home as a backdrop, US singer Lionel Ritchie jived and rocked for an adoring Libyan audience today in a concert to mark the 20th anniversary of a US raid on the North African country.

''Libya I love you, I'll be back,'' the Oscar and Grammy award-winning singer songwriter said to roars of approval from more than 1,000 senior Libyan officials and diplomats gathered in front of the shell-cratered building.

He was followed by Spanish opera stars Jose Carreras and Ofelia Sala who belted through a selection of classic favourites backed by 60-piece orchestra under a cloudless night sky.

Organisers said the music provided a deliberately upbeat commemoration of the 1986 raid, an event that marked one of the lowest points in the decades Libya spent being seen as an outlaw state that supported terrorism.

US forces bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in the early hours of April 15, 1986. Then President Ronald Reagan said it was in retaliation for what he called Libyan complicity in the bombing of a discotheque in Berlin a month earlier in which three people, including a U.S.

serviceman, were killed.

Gaddafi's former home has been kept in its wrecked state to mark the overnight attack in which an estimated 40 people were killed including Gaddafi's adopted daughter Hanna.

The concert was named ''Hanna Peace Day'' in honour of the child, one of several infants killed in the strike.

SINGING, DANCING, LAUGHTER Radiating charm and wit, Ritchie brought the soberly dressed audience repeatedly to its feet with a succession of his greatest hits, persuading them to sing along and dance.

He won laughs when he joked that some in the audience knew the words to his songs better than he did, and drew shouts of ''thank you'' and ''we love you'' from some in the crowd.

The concert took place in a park-like compound, dotted with tents, low-rise residential buildings and security encampments.

Heards of camels dozed beneath palm trees and young children chased antelopes over the grass beneath a bright full moon.

Searchlights swivelling on remotely controlled brackets probed the dark sky in an apparent attempt to recreate some of the atmosphere of the raid.

The organisers said they wanted the Western singers' star power to underline the sincerity of Libya's three-year-old rapprochement with the outside world, bury past enmities and promote a message of goodwill.

''I stand in front of this silent house where 20 years ago my childhood was torn and my toys were destroyed,'' said Gaddafi's daughter Aisha, who was about 10 at the time of the attack.

''Twenty years ago on this day I awoke to the sound of bombs and rockets and the cries of my brothers ... But today we try to heal our wounds and shake hands with those who are here with us tonight.

Yes for peace, no for destruction,'' she said.

The event ended with a group of children dressed as angels standing on a balcony of the house and waving candles as they sang along to a recording of the US humanitarian pop anthem ''We are the world''.

REUTERS OM ND0950

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