Tea, yawns as Gaddafi pushes AU summit through night

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Aided by a steaming pot of tea, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addressed tiring and watch-tapping African leaders into the early hours of Wednesday as their annual meeting in Ethiopia dragged into extra time.

Libyan leader and the new chairman of the African Union, Muammar Gaddafi, listens in during the opening session of the 12th African Union Summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

While none of their words could be heard, a small security lapse gave some prying reporters a fascinating look at the body language of Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni and dozens of others as they debated through the night.

Journalists are usually kept well away from the heads of state, except for the occasional carefully managed news conference, or a brief word thrown to the hack pack as they sweep past in a phalanx of sharp-elbowed, scowling bodyguards.

But as the talks dragged well past midnight, long after the summit was scheduled to end, a diplomat approached a couple of reporters: “Want to see something interesting?”

Down a staircase and through a gap that curtains were meant to cover, the reporters had a perfect view of new AU chairman Gaddafi holding forth to dozens of fellow leaders.

With the Libyan appearing unusually animated, his counterparts became visibly more and more tired.

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, sitting just a few feet from the window, looked especially dejected, often holding his head in his hands.

Uganda’s Museveni stared stonily ahead.

AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, sitting at the head of the table next to Gaddafi, stifled a few yawns.

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But still Gaddafi, who is urging leaders to agree to his long-held dream of a United States of Africa, pushed on as several more journalists joined viewing through the window, unseen by the presidents as the staircase was dark.

“Nobody use flash -- security will be here in a second if they see it,” one Kenyan cameraman warned as some popped photos.

And still Gaddafi talked.

Several leaders kept checking their watches, and others began surreptitiously packing their briefcases in the hope of heading back to their hotels to sleep -- or maybe out on the town to enjoy the last few hours of Addis Ababa nightlife.

Then an aide brought the gold-robed Gaddafi more tea.

Would anybody be able to leave before dawn?

Moments later, Museveni decided to act.

Leaving his seat, he walked the length of the hall and whispered something in the Libyan leader’s ear.

Gaddafi looked up at him, laughed, and after a minute or two more, the meeting broke up.

The peeping journalists scattered fast, rushing to join colleagues waiting for Gaddafi as he came out of the door.

“Go home and sleep,” he said, before heading for his tent in the gardens of the city’s palatial Sheraton Hotel.

Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Charles Dick