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Canada doesn't need Gadhafi to be a political circus

If the Libyan leader had pitched his tent in Newfoundland as planned last week, he and his shenanigans would have fit right in.

Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi adjusts his glasses during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island, Venezuela, Sept. 27, 2009. Gadhafi had originally intended to pitch his tent in Newfoundland, Canada, on his way back from the U.N. last week, though didn't wind up doing so. (Carlos Garcia/Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada – For a brief, surreal moment, it looked like Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would be pitching his Bedouin tent in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland, of all places.

The news broke late last week that Gadhafi, after his unforgettably erratic debut at the United Nations, would arrive Tuesday on the “the rock,” as Canadians call Newfoundland, for a refueling stop back to northern Africa.

The thought of the self-styled “king of kings” and his entourage of female bodyguards spending 24 hours in sleepy Newfoundland seemed incongruous at best.

Not that the island isn’t worth a visit: It’s arguably Canada’s most beautiful province, with countless coves and isolated, clapboard villages that tranquillize you in a heartbeat. Its people experienced desperately bad times when one of the world’s most abundant populations of cod suddenly collapsed in 1992. Still, they’re the most welcoming folks you can meet.

Rumors swirled about what the real reason for Gadhafi’s visit might be. Few believed Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon when he announced that he would meet the Libyan president solely to register Canada’s disgust at the hero’s welcome Gadhafi gave the recently released Libyan convicted of bombing a passenger airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Maybe the Libyan dictator just wanted some rest and relaxation after letting his spleen fly in all directions during a 95-minute address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Spinning conspiracy theories suggesting Israelis were involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy is no doubt exhausting, not to mention the voyage from longtime international pariah to accepted member of the global community.

Whatever the reason, Gadhafi’s advance team spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday scrambling to find hotel rooms for his 130-member entourage in Newfoundland’s capital of St. John’s, and searching for a spot to pitch his tent. Better anchor it down good, many wind-hardened locals recommended, or it’ll end up in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Libyan leader days earlier struck trouble finding a place to pitch his tent in the New York area during the U.N. session. Requests for space in Manhattan's Central Park and Upper East Side were rejected, as was one for Englewood, New Jersey. When his tent was spotted Tuesday on property owned by the real estate tycoon Donald Trump in suburban Bedford, N.Y., it didn't go over well: Trump hinted he had been tricked into renting his land, and the town ruled that the tent violated various zoning and housing codes.

Back in St. John’s, there was also talk of Gadhafi being welcomed with a “screech-in” ceremony, where visitors are made honorary Newfies by throwing back a shot of rum and kissing a cod on the lips. Who would not have paid to see Gadhafi do that?

Alas, it was not to be. On Saturday came news that the man former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once dubbed the madman of the desert had cancelled his unofficial visit.