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Libyan dissidents hurt by US step, some say

CAIRO -- Activists in the Middle East said yesterday the US decision to restore diplomatic ties with Libya undermined Washington's drive for democracy and signaled that the Bush administration was turning its back on dissidents in the country.

Cairo-based Fayez Jibril, spokesman for the Libyan National Congress opposition group, said Moammar Khadafy, whose regime was removed from the US list of nations that sponsor terrorism by yesterday's decision, would use the American opening to further crush dissent.

''Colonel Khadafy will most certainly use this to tighten his hold on the Libyans who aspire for such simple things as freedom of expression and freedom to have a constitution," said Jibril.

Mahmoud Shamam, a leading Libyan activist, voiced similar concerns about the wider effects on the region.

''This was the final and fatal bullet fired by the administration into its initiative to spread democracy and reforms in the Middle East," he said in a telephone interview from Washington. ''Everybody in the area will now ask if the United States is after promoting the principle of democracy or its oil interests."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the decision to restore ties with the oil-rich North African nation -- held responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which claimed 270 lives -- was based on Libya's ''continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism.

She noted, as well, Tripoli's ''excellent" cooperation in combating international terrorist organizations.

Opposition figures pointed to what they saw as a double standard.

They noted the State Department's latest human rights report, which called Libya an ''authoritarian regime" whose ''performance remained poor, although it took some steps to improve its human rights record."

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