Wearing a brown robe and a huge black pin of Africa on his chest, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi used his United Nations debut to rail against what he sees as the inequalities of the U.N. system.
But in a rambling speech that lasted more than 1 1/2 hours — and followed that of President Obama — Gadhafi also had high praise for the American president, once referring to him as "my son."
"We Africans are happy, proud that one son of Africa governs the United States. This is a historic event. We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as the president of the United States of America," Gadhafi said to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice exited the room before the speech, leaving low-level note-takers in their places to hear the speech. The Libyan leader — who had some handwritten notes but no written speech — offered his theory on swine flu, saying it might have been created for military purposes. He talked about piracy off the coast of Somalia and delved into history, demanding to know who killed John F. Kennedy.
The speech went on so long that his interpreter, exhausted, finally gave up and asked a U.N. staffer to help. The Libyan leader was mainly complaining about the U.N. Security Council, which he says should be called the "terror council."
He also said the U.N. has failed to promote peace, noting that 65 wars have broken out since the establishment of the U.N. in 1945.
Gadhafi's visit to the U.N. — the first since he took power 40 years ago — comes at a sensitive time, shortly after he welcomed home the only man convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, who was released from prison on medical grounds.
The protests in New York have been so strong that the Libyan government had to back off from plans to pitch Gadhafi's tent at a Libyan diplomat's home in New Jersey. The town of Bedford, N.Y., is now trying to stop construction of a tent there that might be used by the eccentric Libyan leader this week.
One protester outside the U.N. on Wednesday, Mohamed El-Jahmi says emotions are running high.
"This is a mass murderer. He killed Americans — to come, and to come and set up shop, his tent, he's rubbing salt in American wounds. That is one thing. He's also rubbing salt in my wounds. I'm an American citizen. He killed my brother," El-Jahmi says.
His brother, Fathi El-Jahmi was a prominent political prisoner, believed to have been tortured for several years in a Libyan jail. He died earlier this year. Mohamed El-Jahmi spoke to NPR early Wednesday as he positioned himself for a long day of protests.
"Unless you shut doors on Gadhafi and tell him to play by the rules and restrict him, he will always find a way. The State Department made a mistake. They should have restricted him to the island of Manhattan, but they didn't," El-Jahmi says.
The State Department did prevent Gadhafi from staying in New Jersey but has not restricted his travel.
Gadhafi didn't address the issue in his speech, though he did suggest that the U.N. General Assembly move somewhere else next year so that delegations wouldn't have to face the same security restrictions — and maybe wouldn't be so jet-lagged.