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Scottish parliament slams Lockerbie bomber's release

Scotland's parliament voted Wednesday to reject the government's decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

Scotland's parliament voted Wednesday to reject the government's decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

Al-Megrahi, 57, the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner that killed 270 people, has terminal cancer. He was released on compassionate grounds on Aug. 20 and allowed to return to Libya.

Convicted airplane bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, left, is welcomed by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam on his return to Libya from Scotland on Aug. 20. ((Associated Press))
The Scottish government had asked parliament to endorse the decision to release him as "consistent with the principles of Scottish justice."

By a 73-50 vote, however, the legislators backed an opposition amendment condemning Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision as mishandled — and saying they disagreed with the government's action.

Confusion over al-Megrahi's condition

In Libya, confusion surrounded the state of al-Megrahi's health Wednesday as family members and Libyan officials made conflicting statements about his condition.

Family members said al-Megrahi had been taken to intensive care in a Tripoli hospital after his condition worsened. They said they have not been allowed to visit him.

Reuters also reported that al-Megrahi had been admitted to a hospital emergency room.

"He is in a bad way. He is unable to speak to anyone," a Libyan official told the news agency.

However, later in the day another official denied he was taken to intensive care.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Seyala said al-Megrahi had actually been moved to a special VIP wing of the hospital in Tripoli, where he is being treated.

"Al-Megrahi is not in a dangerous situation and is receiving full treatment from a team of Libyan doctors," Seyala said.

As the Scottish parliament was debating the government's action, the British foreign secretary said Britain did not want al-Megrahi to die in a Scottish prison.

U.K. defends release of al-Megrahi

Foreign Secretary David Miliband defended the British government in a BBC interview following the release of confidential documents about discussions regarding Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of helping bomb Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.

Miliband confirmed details that emerged in the documents, suggesting that Britain had not sought to have al-Megrahi serve out his life sentence.

"We did not want him to die in prison. No, we weren't seeking his death in prison," Miliband said.

The remarks, and the release of the documents, offer the first formal indication of the British government's thoughts on al-Megrahi's liberation. The government had previously refused to be drawn into the issue, saying it was up to the government in Scotland to decide on justice issues.

Opposition calls for inquiry into release

British Opposition Leader David Cameron immediately seized upon Miliband's remarks, demanding an investigation into the controversy.

"The prime minister and the government stand accused of double-dealing — saying one thing to the Libyans in private, refusing to express an opinion to the British public and indicating something else to the Americans," Cameron said. "That is why we need an inquiry to clear this matter up."

The British government released the documents Tuesday in an attempt to quell speculation that it had pushed al-Megrahi's release to boost economic co-operation with Libya. But the documents fanned more resentment in the United States, where al-Megrahi's release was vehemently opposed.

Britain has regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are responsible for local issues but retains power over foreign policy.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the decision to free al-Megrahi was Scotland's. He will now face increased pressure to say how he viewed Scotland's decision — a stand he has been reluctant to take because of domestic political pressure to keep regional issues separate from the national ones.

Releasing prisoners on compassionate grounds is a regular feature of Scottish justice for dying inmates.

Anger has been percolating on both sides of the Atlantic since al-Megrahi flew home to a hero's welcome in Libya.

The families of some American victims have said they were disgusted by the bomber's release, which was also sharply criticized by U.S. President Barack Obama, his attorney general, Eric Holder, and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Confusion over assurances given to U.S.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Richard Kolko said Tuesday that his department had "received assurances in the 1990s that al-Megrahi's full sentence would be served in Scotland."

The American statement seemed to contradict some of the released documents, including one from Britain's Foreign Office that said there was no categorical commitment given to the United States to keep al-Megrahi jailed.

During debate in the Scottish parliament Wednesday, MacAskill said he had received "conflicting advice" from officials in London on what assurances Britain had given Libya and the United States.

"I still do not know the exact nature of the pretrial discussions or what may have been agreed between the Libyan and U.K. or any other governments," he said.

American victims' families reacted with fury to the disclosures.

"The fix has been in for a while," said Bob Monetti, whose 20-year-old brother Richard from Cherry Hill, N.J., was among those killed. "The U.K. has put incredible pressure on Scotland to do this thing, and they finally caved in."

The disclosure of the documents followed claims in the British media that the British government struck a deal with Libyan authorities to include al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement because that was in Britain's best interests as a major oil deal was being negotiated.

Britain has growing economic interests in Libya — from oil exploration to financial services. Last year, British imports from Libya topped $1.8 billion.

The British government, however, has repeatedly denied its role in the release and said there was no pressing commercial deal.

With files from The Associated Press