Compiled by Daily Star staff
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi lashed out at what he described as "backward" societies in the Middle East, arguing that government heavy-handedness in dealing with political opposition stemmed from the violent nature of that dissent.
"You ask us, 'Why do you oppress opposition in the Middle East?"' Gadhafi told attendees at a Columbia University panel discussion on democracy late Thursday, speaking in Arabic during a live video appearance.
"Opposition in the Middle East is quite different from opposition in advanced countries. In our countries, the opposition takes the form of explosions, assassinations, killing ... Because opposition in our country is different from opposition in your country. Our opposition resorts to bombs, assassinations, explosions, subversive acts, trains in military camps - in some cases before the September 11 events," said Gadhafi.
Questioned about his regime's human rights record, Gadhafi insisted that "everything is open to discussion" in Libya and criticized the United States for "eavesdropping" on its own people and "creating another state of terror."
"Human rights means being protected from ... harassment by the government," he said.
Gadhafi said he was proud of what he considered a complex society and what he says is the world's only true participatory democracy.
But he argued that the political and social mindset of the region had failed to adapt to a changing world.
The two-day Columbia conference on "prospects for democracy" was billed as the first major meeting of American and Libyan academics and officials in 25 years.
Gadhafi, once viewed as one of the Arab world's most reviled leaders, joined the videoconference just after 8 p.m. Libya time and spoke for more than 90 minutes.
Gadhafi 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 Jamahiriyya (a state of the masses) system," he said. "This is a savior to them."
Challenged by the U.S. moderator about freedom of speech, Gadhafi said every Libyan was free to express his opinions at the public meetings, which he said are better forums than newspapers.
In remarks apparently intended to fend off criticism of the Libyan authorities' handling of riots last month that left 11 dead, Gadhafi said that the protests stemming from the publication of cartoons ridiculing Islam's Prophet Mohammad elicited a coarse reaction from all sides.
"Our methods are very backward indeed. The methods of opposition in our country are also quite different.
"Even when it comes to demonstrations, they are against Mohammad cartoons, they use bullets. You use tear gas or hoses; the police in our countries react in a backward way because they are part of a backward society," he said, speaking in front of a map in which Africa was in green and the Middle East was in white.
Gadhafi also criticized Islamic fundamentalism and what he said was its blight on education.
When Gadhafi concluded the interview, he rose and walked away from his desk, only to be yanked from behind by the microphone cable still clipped to the back of his robe. A technician instantly unhooked him. - Agencies