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A year on, Lockerbie bomber casts a long shadow

LONDON (Reuters) - A terminally ill Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has enjoyed a year of freedom at home in a case that has complicated relations between the new British government and the U.S. administration.

Scottish authorities freed Abdel Basset al-Megrahi to return home on August 20 last year on compassionate grounds. Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, was expected to live only three months but has survived, prompting U.S. questions about the medical advice on which the decision was based.

U.S. anger over the release resurfaced after American politicians questioned whether oil giant BP Plc had lobbied Scotland for Megrahi’s release. BP and Scottish ministers have denied the accusations which risked further tarnishing BP’s reputation after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“There seems to be a recognition now that we acted on judicial grounds alone,” Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond told Reuters during a visit to Norway this week. Scotland’s devolved government has responsibility for judicial matters.

The Libyans gave Megrahi a hero’s welcome when he returned to Tripoli last year, embarrassing Britain’s then Labour government.

The case has also cast a shadow over efforts by Britain’s new coalition government to maintain strong transatlantic ties.

Prime Minister David Cameron, elected in May, rejected calls for an inquiry into whether BP influenced the release when he met U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last month.

SENTENCED TO LIFE

Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison in 2001 for his part in blowing up New York-bound Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988, killing 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground in the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Many of the victims were Americans.

U.S. Senators have been pushing for a hearing on whether BP had influenced the release of Megrahi as it sought contracts with resource-rich Libya. However, a number of British witnesses had refused to testify.

Retired British doctor Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the bombing, said he was delighted that Megrahi was alive.

“We should be rejoicing about the fact that this guy has survived a year,” Swire, who believes that Megrahi was framed, told Reuters.

“I’m satisfied that this man was not responsible in any way for the murder of my daughter,” he said.

Swire urged the Libyan authorities to reveal what treatment Megrahi has been receiving in the hope that it might help other prostate cancer sufferers.

He has also called on Libya to use its oil wealth to fund a research agency for cancer treatment.

“Such a center would lessen the load for Lockerbie relatives, something benign to remember along with the horror,” he wrote in a letter to Scotland’s Herald newspaper.

Additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo

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