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Libyan foreign minister defects, arrives in Britain

Libya's Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa holds a news conference in Tripoli in this March, 18, 2011 file photo.

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters/Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa arrived in Britain on Wednesday and has quit Col. Moammar Gaddafi's government, the British government said.

Mr. Koussa was one of Col. Gaddafi's key officials, his spy chief and the architect of a dramatic shift in Libya's foreign policy that brought the country back to the international community after years of sanctions.

Mr. Koussa was seeking refuge in protest against Gaddafi's forces' attacks on civilians, a friend told Reuters.

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Here are some facts about Mr. Koussa:

* Western-educated, Mr. Koussa holds an M.A. from Michigan State University in the United States. He speaks fluent English, though prefers not to speak English at public gatherings, instead using a translator.

* He was head of Libya's External Security Organization, which made him the country's de facto spy chief. He was appointed foreign minister in a government reshuffle in 2009, replacing Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, who was appointed Libyan ambassador to the United Nations in New York.

* Mr. Koussa, with Col. Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, played a central role in negotiating the lifting of international sanctions on Libya in 2004. As a confidence-building measure, he provided information to Washington on the activities of al Qaeda in Libya and north Africa.

* A U.S. embassy cable published by the WikiLeaks website described Mr. Koussa as "the rare Libyan official who embodies a combination of intellectual acumen, operational ability and political weight". Another leaked cable said he was "a useful and powerful interlocutor who has been mostly cooperative in liaison channels and key to our re-engagement."

According to U.S. embassy cables, Mr. Koussa offered the British government assurances that Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, the man convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, would be given a low-key welcome if freed and allowed to return home.

In the event, he was given a hero's welcome when he touched down in Tripoli last year, embarassing the British government.

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* On March 18, Mr. Koussa appeared at a press conference in Tripoli to announce an immediate halt to military operations against Libyan rebels. However, there was no indication that forces loyal to Col. Gaddafi had observed the ceasefire.

* Mr. Koussa acted as informal mentor to another of Col. Gaddafi's sons, Mutassim, who is national security advisor. He accompanied Mutassim on a visit to New York soon after Libya emerged from international isolation. A U.S. embassy cable quoted Mr. Koussa, in a private conversation, as saying that Mutassim was not a keen student of international relations and had to be prompted to read books on the subject.

* Before the Libya crisis, there were indications that Mr. Koussa was no longer at the centre of the country's ruling circle. There had been unconfirmed reports of a physical altercation between him and one of Col. Gaddafi's sons. At an international summit in Tripoli in December, Mr. Koussa spent much of his time smoking in the public buffet area while the rest of Col. Gaddafi's entourage were cloistered in a private room.

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