Scots divided over release of Lockerbie bomber

LONDON Fri Aug 28, 2009 2:48pm EDT

1 of 2. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi boards an aeroplane at Glasgow airport after being released from prison, August 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Lawson/Pool

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LONDON (Reuters) - Scots are divided over the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber on humanitarian grounds, a poll by Ipsos MORI Scotland for Thomson Reuters showed.

Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill freed Abdel Basset al-Megrahi because he is dying of cancer, prompting severe criticism from the United States government and relatives of U.S. victims of the 1988 bombing.

Thirty-seven percent of those polled, the largest group, said they "strongly disagreed" with the decision to free Megrahi, while a further 10 percent "tended to disagree."

But that was almost balanced by 19 percent who "strongly agreed" with MacAskill and 21 percent who "tended to agree." The remainder either had no strong opinion or said they did not know about the merits of the decision.

"Regardless of their view, people recognize that Mr MacAskill upheld the due process of Scots Law in difficult circumstances," a spokesman for MacAskill said in a statement.

"He had the courage to make the right decision for the right reasons, which attracts very substantial support in this poll and other surveys."

Megrahi, 57, is the only man convicted of the bombing of the Pan Am jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans.

He served eight years in jail but flew home from Scotland on August 20 and was greeted in Tripoli by more than 1,000 people cheering and some waving Libyan and Scottish flags.

Americans angered by the decision have launched a "Boycott Scotland" campaign and MacAskill's political opponents say he has harmed the image of the country of 5 million.

MacAskill, from the nationalist SNP party, has criticized the welcome afforded to Megrahi but defended his decision to free a man who is said to have less than three months to live.

Scotland has a devolved government and a separate legal system from the rest of Britain.

Ipsos MORI interviewed 534 adults in Scotland by telephone on August 20-26 for the poll.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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