By Afaf Geblawi
Tripoli - Libya marked the 20th anniversary of a deadly US air attack with a middle-of-the-night public concert featuring 1980s US soul-pop crooner Lionel Richie and Spanish tenor Jose Carreras.
"Hana would be happy tonight," said Richie during his performance, referring to the adopted daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who was among the 40 slain in the 1986 air strikes on the main cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.
One member of the audience climbed onstage to dance with Richie, whose hits All Night Long, Say You, Say Me, and Dancing On The Ceiling were being heavily played on US radio airwaves around the time then-president Ronald Reagan authorised the strike.
Reagan had famously called Kadhafi the "mad dog" of the Middle East in his justification of the US bombings, but Libya has since warmed relations with the West by officially renouncing its weapons of mass destruction programme.
"Today, we have bandaged our wounds, but we will not forget," said Gaddafi's daughter, Aisha, at the opening of the concert, which began on Saturday at 2.30am, the exact hour at which US warplanes flying out of British bases hit their targets 20 years ago.
"We want to launch an appeal for peace and against destruction," she said.
The concert was held in Port Azizia near the ruins of the Libyan leader's residence, targeted by the attacks. The ruins have never been removed.
Attendees lit candles and chanted patriotic slogans in advance of the concert, titled the "Hana Festival for Freedom and Peace".
No official attendance estimates were available.
Richie's performance was followed by the Spanish singer Carreras, who was accompanied by 65 musicians.
Egyptian singer Mohammed Munir and folklore troupes from Egypt and Syria also participated in the festival.
The US attack on April 15, 1986 began in revenge for a bomb attack on a West Berlin disco frequented by US servicemen that Washington blamed on Libyan agents.
"We will not forget but we do not want to be hostages of the past," a concert organiser said on condition of anonymity.
"We want to live in the present and express through our music our renewed union with the world."
In sharp contrast to the feel-good atmosphere at the festival, a senior Libyan official on Thursday called the United States "a damned country, banished from divine mercy and deserving only of being cursed."
Deputy parliament speaker Ahmed Ibrahim also called US President George Bush "insane" because he "makes all sorts of threats and says all options are open when it comes to the Arab and Muslim worlds".
A demonstration was planned Saturday night by an organisation that said it would show a film on "Libyan resistance to the American attack."
Libya announced in December 2003 it was abandoning efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, leading both Washington and Tripoli to move toward reestablishing relations after a 24-year break, triggered by the 1979 dismissal. However, Gaddafi never forgave Reagan for the bombings. When Reagan died in June 2004, the Libyan leader said he regretted his death because it meant he could never be prosecuted for his crimes "against the children of Libya".
Richie, a former Commodores singer who co-wrote with Michael Jackson the number-one hit We Are The World in 1985, told a press conference his presence in Libya was a "historic event," and said he took part because "music unites people".