Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan defended Muammar Gaddafi, calling the embattled Libyan leader a friend and Muslim brother who had lent the movement €5.6m over the years.
Mr Farrakhan, speaking at a rare news conference in Chicago, railed against the media and said Gaddafi was not the monster portrayed by Western governments.
The 78-year-old minister criticised the US government and President Barack Obama – whom he also called a brother – for launching military action against Libya without justification. He accused Americans of wanting Gaddafi out of the picture to secure oil interests.
“I love Muammar Gaddafi and I love our president,” Mr Farrakhan told several hundred cheering supporters at the Nation of Islam’s headquarters. “It grieves me to see my brother president set a policy that would remove this man not only from power, but from the earth.”
Mr Obama has defended America’s military involvement in Libya, saying the US has intervened to prevent a slaughter of civilians.
Mr Farrakhan portrayed Gaddafi as a fellow revolutionary and long-time friend to the Nation of Islam, which used £1.9 million it borrowed from Libya in the 1970s to acquire its opulent headquarters on Chicago’s South Side. Years later, a £3 million loan was used to pay back taxes and costs for the home of the movement’s former leader Elijah Muhammad.
Mr Farrakhan has publicly defended Gaddafi at several recent events, including the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day convention in February and at a civil rights convention last week.
He said the US government should not be attacking Libya when it had stayed out of other conflicts around the world and called for a cease-fire on both sides in Libya and a chance for the Libyan people to vote on whether Gaddafi should stay in power.
He dismissed allegations that Gaddafi had violently cracked down on his own people, saying the Libyan leader was “killing traitors”.
“Do you really think that Brother Gaddafi really was going to slaughter 700,000 people?” Mr Farrakhan said. “If that were true ... where are all the bodies?”
“I don’t care what Gaddafi has done wrong, he is not the ’mad dog of the Middle East’,” he said, a reference to the label former President Ronald Reagan once gave Gaddafi.
Mr Farrakhan said he originally called the news conference to warn the country about a huge earthquake that he had foreseen, cautioning that Americans “are worse prepared than the Japanese”.