AFTER 40 years of shunning United Nations appearances, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi evidently had a lot to get off his chest.
So he stepped to the world’s stage, armed with a yellow folder of handwritten notes, and basically emptied his mind.
For a mind-boggling one hour and 36 minutes on Wednesday, the so-called king of kings was winging it.
The impact of Gaddafi’s long, unprecedented and rambling speech was stunning. Half the cavernous chamber, packed for President Barack Obama’s first speech to the UN General Assembly, emptied out. Delegates’ faces seemed angry, quizzical, fatigued.
From a perch inside the chamber, the light-coloured robes of some African and Mideast leaders dotted a sea of dark business suits. Polite applause followed the opening remarks of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly president Ali Treki.
Dressed in his flowing brown and tan Bedouin robes, and a black beret that he self-consciously patted at times, Gadaffi listened through a translation earpiece in his right ear and fiddled with the cord in his left hand.
He kept glasses, a red handkerchief and a rumpled yellow folder in front of him on the desk. He jotted a note to himself and put it into the yellow folder. He clapped his hands. Then he flipped through the handwritten pages inside the folders, written in rows of large, flowing bold Arabic letters.A commotion swept through the room as Obama appeared. Gaddafi joined in light applause and listened with the earpiece in his left ear.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also listened to Obama, tieless and not using an earpiece. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazee each listened with earpieces.
As Obama gestured and read from the TelePrompTer, speaking of the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the Iranians listened intently.
Gaddafi, but not Ahmadinejad, applauded Obama at the end of his speech. Though Gaddafi was to speak next, all the prominent US delegates left the chamber, leaving behind note-taking staff.
Treki introduced Gaddafi as the “king of kings”. But Gaddafi remained in his seat for another 15 minutes as an awkward silence and confusion gripped the chamber.
Gaddafi didn’t seem to care.
He kept shaking hands and talking to people. Finally he dabbed the red handkerchief to his mouth, smiled broadly and enjoyed the moment – the world waiting to hear from the would-be King of the United States of Africa.
He swept his robes over himself and strode to the stage, using the handrail on his way up. He laid the shabby yellow folder in front of him on the podium, and pressed open some of the handwritten pages. There was scattered applause in the half-empty chamber.Gaddafi held up a copy of the UN Charter in his hands. He sported big, shiny rings on each hand. For a moment, it seemed as if he had utterly lost himself in his thoughts. He stopped and sorted through the pages of his yellow folder.
It was becoming clear he was making this up as he went along, relying on broad strokes of ideas from the pages of his folder. There was no prepared text. He was not reading from the TelePrompTer.
A black emblem in the shape of Africa, with a white outline, was pinned to his robe and reflected light from his right chest. He began railing against the UN’s power structure, tilted toward the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
He called the General Assembly “the parliament of the world” that should be dictating decisions to the Security Council. Gaddafi failed to note that his nation now holds a Security Council seat, though not a permanent veto-wielding one.
He slightly ripped the UN Charter when he was done with it, drawing a rebuke later.
That prompted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to respond at the start of his speech: “I stand here to support the UN Charter, not to tear it up.”
Delegates also began walking out on Gaddafi. There was amazement and disbelief. Others laughed or smiled, perhaps not knowing quite how to respond. Many spoke among themselves. More than half the assembly that Gaddafi called the supreme leader of the world was deserting him. Empty blue and beige seats were replacing the sea of business suits.
“It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the ‘Terror Council’,” Gaddafi said.
At that, another wave of delegates left.
With fellow Libyan Treki chairing the assembly, there was no stopping Gaddafi.
Someone handed him a piece of paper, perhaps to get him to stop. He crumpled it up. He had worn out even the translators – a woman’s voice replaced the man who had been speaking. He paid no attention to the red light to the right of the lectern, which had long ago told him the speech should have ended.
Gaddafi seemed to be making up for lost time. And when he finally ended, delegates lightly applauded and no one stood.
But Gaddafi clasped his hands above him and waved in triumph as he left. – Associated Press