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Ten things you might not know about Colonel Gaddafi
On September 1, Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the bloodless coup in which he overthrew King Idris I. Since 1969, when he took power as a stylish, and, at only 27, very young revolutionary leader, he has supported terrorism, led a pariah state and brutally quelled opposition dissent.
While there are questions from some quarters over Libya's culpability in the Lockerbie tragedy - back in the headlines because of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's controversial release from a Scottish jail - there is no doubt that Gaddafi has been responsible for financing many high-profile terrorists.
Libya was linked with the Black September Movement which carried out the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the bombing of a Berlin disco in 1986 in which three died and many US soldiers were injured. Gaddafi was also reported to have financed Carlos the Jackal, the famous Venezuelan-born revolutionary, and the IRA.
Famously, Britain and Libya called off diplomatic relations for a decade after a London police constable, Yvonne Fletcher, was fatally shot by a machine-gun fired from the Libyan embassy in London. She was policing a demonstration against Gaddafi's rule in 1984.
Yet now the seemingly rehabilitated despot is accepted by many of the countries he once classed as enemies.
Here are ten things you might not know about one of the West's unlikeliest - and most fickle - friends:
• After Omar Bongo of Gabon died earlier this year, Gaddafi became the world's third-longest serving head of state, after King Rama IX of Thailand, and Queen Elizabeth II.
• Like Chairman Mao with his Little Red Book, Gaddafi wrote about his beliefs and ambitions for a socialist-Islamic state in a widely read work. His Green Book was published in three volumes from 1975 to 1979, and he has also released a collection of essays and allegories, Escape to Hell and other stories.
• Gaddafi recently expressed his desire for a 'United States of Africa'. In 1972 he tried to join Libya with Egypt and Syria in a 'Federation of Arab Republics', and two years later, he made another effort, ultimately acrimoniously, to merge Libya with Tunisia.
• In 2002, Gaddafi bought a significant stake in Juventus, the Italian football club, from his friend Gianni Agnelli, the owner of Fiat.
• Gaddafi has awarded himself the title 'King of Kings of Africa'. He has also decided that he should be known as 'Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya' or 'Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution'. (President Ronald Reagan was less complimentary; he called the Libyan leader 'The mad dog of the Middle East'.)
• Gaddafi spoke out quickly and strongly against al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, and urged Libyans to donate blood for the victims.
• Libya has one of the world's most ambitious irrigation systems. The Great Manmade River is a huge network of pipes, viaducts and wells, sometimes as much as 500 metres underneath the surface of the earth, which transports more than 6 million cubic metres of water from underneath the Sahara to the country's northern regions every day.
• Of Gaddafi's eight children, one is a former professional footballer in Italy. However, Saadi Gaddafi managed to play only two Serie A games during spells with Perugia, Udinese and Sampdoria.
• Moatessem-Billah Gaddafi, another son, once tried, with Egyptian backing, to engineer a coup against his father, but has since returned to the fold.
• On every foreign trip he makes, Gaddafi is surrounded by a 40-strong retinue of female bodyguards, who he insists must be virgins. "Women should be trained for combat, so that they do not become easy prey for their enemies," he once said.