N.J. mayor claims victory in bid to keep Gadhafi away
The mayor of a New Jersey city expressed confidence Monday that a judge's order to halt work on the grounds of a mansion will keep Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from using it during his first visit to the U.S. this month.
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes had sought to stop all renovations to prevent Gadhafi from staying at the five-acre estate, which Libya owns. Local officials said Gadhafi wanted to pitch a ceremonial Bedouin-style tent there to entertain guests during his visit to the United Nations in September.
Bergen County Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne gave the city a partial legal victory Monday, ordering a halt to work on the estate's pool and lengthy driveway. City attorneys claim the Libyans failed to secure all the construction permits and plans they needed in the upscale community of 28,000, about 20 kilometres north of Manhattan. The judge ruled renovation may continue inside the mansion and a poolhouse.
Wildes said he was happy with the ruling because it leaves the grounds unsuitable for a head of state. He said that's the only way to assure the Libyans keep their promise last week that Gadhafi won't travel to New Jersey, which lost dozens of residents in an airplane bombing widely believed to have been the work of Libyan intelligence.
"This is a victory for the people of New Jersey, because Gadhafi won't come here if he doesn't have the kind of opulent presence worthy of a national leader," Wildes said. "But this is a Band-Aid on a long-term problem for our community because we don't want the Libyans here if they're not going to be good neighbours."
The dispute arose after a Scottish court recently freed the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi received a hero's welcome when he arrived back in Libya. The bombing killed 270 people, including 38 from New Jersey and 59 from New York.
Talk of Gadhafi's possible visit to Englewood sparked angry protests by residents, who said he wasn't welcome.
The Libyans have promised Gadhafi will stay elsewhere. Attorney Joseph Elhilow, who represented the Libyan government in court Monday, said there was no need for the mayor's injunction request.
Local opposition to the Libyan strongman peaked Sunday at a rally outside the Englewood mansion attended by Gov. Jon Corzine, who described the bombing as a precursor to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which also took a disproportionately heavy toll on area residents, many of whom worked at the World Trade Center.
The Libyans have had as many as 100 workers renovating the property since Aug. 3. They continued construction after the city issued a stop work order Aug. 24. Monday's injunction allows police to enter the estate to stop work barred by the ruling.