Gaddafi blasts Israel
Tripoli - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi blasted Israel at a special African Union summit on Monday on the eve of celebrations to mark his 40-year rule, accusing the Jewish state of causing all the woes facing Africa.
Israel is "behind all of Africa's conflicts", Gaddafi told some 30 African leaders gathered under a huge tent at Tripoli airport for the summit focused on the continent's trouble spots, including Sudan's Darfur and Somalia.
He demanded the closure of all Israeli embassies across Africa, describing Israel as a "gang" and saying it uses "the protection of minorities as an excuse to launch conflicts".
Gaddafi claimed that a Darful rebel group had opened an office in Tel Aviv while its leader lives under French protection, a reference to Sudan Liberation Army chief Abdelwahid Mohammed Nur who lives in exile in Paris.
"As African brothers we must find solutions to stop the superpowers who are pillaging our continent," he said.
Israel has acknowledged operating what it called a forward policy in Africa between the 1960s and 1980s, intervening in wars from Ethiopia to Uganda and Sudan.
But the regime of self-proclaimed African "king of kings" Gaddafi has also been accused of fomenting bloodshed in the 1980s and 1990s across western Africa and the Sahel.
Persistent and deadly conflicts in Somalia and Sudan top the agenda of the forum - the third African Union summit so far this year - held to mark the 10th anniversary of the 53-member pan-African organisation.
"We'll try to focus on all conflict situations... We believe that we can move forward in terms of peace and discussions," the AU's Peace and Security Council chief Ramtane Lamamra said, singling out Somalia.
Thirty leaders attended the opening session but several others expected to be present stayed away, including South African President Jacob Zuma and outspoken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Among those present were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is facing an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Darfur, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
The summit comes on the eve of a gala celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of Gaddafi's coming to power, when as a young colonel of 27 he led a bloodless coup overthrowing the Western-backed regime of King Idriss.
The summit will examine ways to "further support the Somali transitional government, in particular by reinforcing its institutions and by improving security in the country," a summit document said.
Hardline Islamist rebels launched a sweeping onslaught in Mogadishu in May against the government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, reducing his reach to just a handful of areas with the backing of AU peacekeepers.
African Union chief Jean Ping told reporters that Sierre Leone, Malawi and Nigeria had agreed to reinforce the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia (Amisom), but gave no further details.
Focus will also fall on war-ravaged Darfur and the AU's joint peacekeeping force with the United Nations, which has been plagued by funding and equipment shortfalls.
"The need to reinforce security (in Darfur) is paramount," the summit document said.
Some 300 000 people have died in the six-year conflict with 2.7 million left homeless, according to the United Nations. Sudan's government puts the death toll at 10 000.
African leaders are also expected to endorse a common stance on climate change, seeking billions of dollars in compensation from industrialised nations.
An African minister said the summit was being held because "the Libyans want to guarantee a high level of representation at the festivities" for the 40th anniversary.
The celebrations come as Libya fends off angry reactions for giving a hero's welcome to convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi after his release from a Scottish prison last month on compassionate grounds.
Libya ignored US warnings that any public celebration would damage relations that have been improving since Tripoli renounced terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
Since then Gaddafi has enjoyed improved ties with the West and growing influence in Africa after years of pariah status.