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Libya police halt UK embassy protest

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Police in Libya have halted an attempt by protesters to storm the British embassy in Tripoli during a demonstration over the Lockerbie trial verdicts.

Anti-riot police beat and tear-gassed the demonstrators trying to break into the embassy in the centre of the capital, witnesses said.

The demonstration by thousands of young people was initially approved by the authorities in protest against the conviction of a Libyan national by Scottish judges in the Lockerbie case, officials said.

Witnesses saw riot police fire dozens of tear gas grenades to try to disperse the crowd and stop protesters from trying to force their way into the embassy premises.

A police officer said: "People are very angry. They want to storm into the British embassy to express their anger and that's why we were obliged to intervene."

Police arrested at least 30 young people after beating them with batons. They were taken away for questioning.

A spokeswoman for the UK Foreign Office told CNN: "We can confirm that a demonstration took place. At no time was security breached.

"We made it clear to the Libyan authoritiis the need to ensure that security of our diplomatic premises was maintained."

A Libyan official said another demonstration took place outside the U.N. mission in Tripoli and said police had also intervened there to disperse the crowd. He did not elaborate.

Scottish judges last week convicted Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi of the 1988 Pan Am airliner bombing over Scotland in which 270 people were killed.

The judges, sitting in a special court in the Netherlands, handed down a life sentence on Megrahi and recommended he serve a minimum 20 years in prison. They found his co-defendant, Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, not guilty.

The protesters massed in the Zaouyat Dahmani district where the embassy is located. They carried four coffins symbolising Libyans who were killed when U.S. aircraft bombed Tripoli in 1986, and chanted "Down with America. Down with Great Britain."

Describing Megrahi as "a hostage,," they burned U.S. and British flags while chanting: "La Illah Illa Allah (No God but Allah) ... America is the enemy of God.

"Al-Megrahi is innocent...The verdict is political and racist," they yelled.

The demonstrators urged the United Nations, the Islamic Conference Organisation (OIC), the Arab League and human rights organisations to help get al-Megrahi released, and demanded that U.N. sanctions on Libya be lifted immediately.

U.N. sanctions have been suspended since Tripoli handed over the two bombing suspects in April 1999. To impose them again would require another vote in the U.N. Security Council but Libya says it wants its name cleared.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
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Thousands protest Lockerbie conviction
February 3, 2001
Lockerbie families deny Gadhafi proof
February 1, 2001
Cleared Libyan arrives home
February 1, 2001
'I'm not an agent,' says freed Fhimah
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'I am clean' says jailed Megrahi
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RELATED SITES:
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
LibyaOnline.com
Lockerbie Verdict
Lockerbie Trial Briefing Site

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