Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafy may be cozying up to the West, but he was taking no guff from academics about America's "fake" democracy yesterday during an extraordinary discussion at Columbia University.
His response to gentle questioning about political freedoms in Libya was to bash America as a place where elections are rigged and the government snoops on its critics.
"There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet," Khadafy said through a translator in a feisty live appearance via satellite from Tripoli.
Washington considers Libya a military dictatorship, and the country remains on the list of state sponsors of terror. But the Bush administration warmed to Khadafy in 2003 after he renounced his secret nukes program and paid compensation to relatives of the victims of several Libyan terrorist attacks.
Khadafy's lecture was the climax of a two-day Columbia conference billed as the first between American and Libyan academics in 25 years.
The image of the Libyan ruler, looking vigorous if a little grumpy, was beamed onto TV screens in Columbia's soaring Low Library. He sat in a big leather chair and wore elaborate mauve robes that might have inspired a "Star Wars" costume designer. He had not combed his hair.
Asked about human rights in Libya, he snapped that the U.S. government is secretly wiretapping citizens and snooping in libraries.
In America, he said, only the rich rule because election campaigns cost so much. He said demonstrations prove the people aren't being served by their leaders.
"Why else do people go into the streets to demand the withdrawal of occupation forces?" he asked. "That means this representation is fake."
Asked if Libya had any shortcomings, he first laughed, then had audio problems, then protested that "I did not understand the thrust of your question."