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Stalemate in Libya


A screen grab showing Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi shaking hands with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the international chess federation, in Tripoli

A screen grab showing Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi shaking hands with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the international chess federation, in Tripoli

While Muammar Qaddafi loyalists outside of Misurata planned strategies against rebel fighters over the weekend, the Libyan leader was in Tripoli strategizing a game of chess against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and former president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia.

The late grandmaster Bobby Fischer may have slipped off the radar for decades, but Qaddafi assured Ilyumzhinov during their meeting that he doesn’t intend to disappear anytime soon.

“Qaddafi declared he’s not intending to leave Libya, emphasizing that it’s his home and the land where his children and grandchildren have died," said Ilyumzhinov, adding that his chess partner did not know what "post" he is supposed to leave.

""I am not a prime minister, not a president, and not a king. I do not hold any post in Libya, and therefore I have no position to step down from,’" Ilyumzhinov quoted Qaddafi as saying

Ilyumzhinov’s unprecedented audience with Qaddafi is not the first time that his bizarre antics have caused controversy. He has claimed on a number of occasions that he was once abducted by aliens and taken to a distant star.

“My theory is that chess comes from space," he told one TV interviewer. "Why? Because [it has] the same rules, 64 squares, black and white, and the same rules in Japan, in China, in Qatar, in Mongolia, in Africa. The rules are the same. Why? I think it seems maybe it is from space.”

Upon his return from space, Ilyumzhinov spent millions on the construction of a “Chess City” outside of Elista, the Kalmyk capital.

He then attempted to purchase a site near New York's Ground Zero -- where a controversial Islamic community facility was set to be built -- for use as a world chess center.

After Ilyumzhinov’s close encounter of the third kind, is it too much to speculate that an intergalactic chess center might be in the works?

Endgame for Qaddafi?

Muammar Qaddafi is an equally colorful public figure, who has sometimes raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles by taking a large entourage of female bodyguards with him on state visits, not to mention a voluptuous Ukrainian personal nurse who was once a constant presence by his side.

Qaddafi’s preferred locale to conduct meetings is in his portable Bedouin tent. Wikileaks has even released diplomatic cables that claim the Libyan leader once dumped several tons of enriched uranium slated for decommissioning on an airport runway in a fit of pique at not being granted his (perfectly reasonable) request to pitch his tent outside the UN.

Though equal in their eccentricities, it appears that Ilyumzhinov's skill on the chess board was far greater than Qaddafi's. In a Herald Sun article, the FIDE president reportedly said Qaddafi was "of course weaker, much weaker than me... just an enthusiast who knows where to put the pieces and do a child's play checkmate."

However, Qaddafi's eldest son. Muhammad, with whom he also played, is allegedly a "serious player, who knows the theory of chess."

Despite his apparent chess superiority, Ilyumzhinov "diplomatically" decided not to press ahead for a victory and instead offered a Qaddafi a draw, which the Libyan colonel duly accepted.

The AFP news agency reports that, upon his return to Moscow, Ilyumzhinov expressed no regrets about his visit.

Nonetheless, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s special envoy to Libya, Mikhail Margelov, appeared to suggest that Ilyumzhinov should have used the game to send a message and “make Qaddafi understand that his game is coming to an end.”

Checkmate could finally be on the cards, it seems.

-- Joanna Kinscherff

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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