ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Mr. Obama avoided one potentially embarrassing moment on the floor of the General Assembly. His speech was followed by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but the two men did not meet. President Obama was given plenty of time to leave before the Libyan leader got to the podium. This was Gadhafi's first time at the U.N. His trip has been met with protests over where he might pitch his Bedouin tent. And as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, his speech was, to say the least, unusual.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Wearing a brown robe and a huge, black pin of Africa on his chest, Colonel Gadhafi used his U.N. debut to rail against what he sees as the inequalities of the U.N. system. But in a rambling speech that lasted more than an hour and a half, he also had high praise for President Obama, once referring to him as "my son."
President MOAMMAR GADHAFI (Libya): (Through translator) We, as a matter of fact, that we Africans are happy, proud that one son of Africans governs the United States of America - of Africa. This is a historic event. We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as the president of the United States of America…
(Soundbite of applause)
KELEMEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice exited the room before the speech, leaving low-level note-takers in their places to hear Gadhafi talk - and talk. The Libyan leader, who had some handwritten notes but no written speech, offered his theory on swine flu, saying it might have been created for military purposes. He talked about piracy off the coast of Somalia and delved into history, demanding to know who killed John F. Kennedy. The speech went on so long that his interpreter, exhausted, finally gave up and asked a U.N. staffer to help. The Libyan leader was mainly complaining about the U.N. Security Council, which he says should be called the terror council. And he said the U.N. has failed to promote peace.
Pres. GADHAFI: (Through translator) Sixty-five wars broke out after the establishment of the United Nations and after the establishment of the Security Council and after this establishment.
KELEMEN: Gadhafi's visit comes at a sensitive time, shortly after he welcomed home the only man convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103, a man released from Scotland on medical grounds. The protests have been so strong here that the Libyan government had to back off from plans to pitch Gadhafi's tent at a Libyan diplomat's home in New Jersey. And today, the town of Bedford, New York, took down a tent that was apparently put up for the eccentric Libyan leader.
One protester outside the U.N. today, Mohamed Eljahmi(ph), says emotions are running high.
Mr. MOHAMED ELJAHMI: This is a mass murderer - killed Americans. I mean, you know, to come and set up shop and set his tent, he's rubbing salt to the American wounds. That is one thing. He's also rubbing salts to my wounds, my personal - I'm an American citizen. He killed my brother.
KELEMEN: His brother, Fathi Eljahmi, was a prominent political prisoner believed to have been tortured for several years in a Libyan jail. He died earlier this year. Mohamed Eljahmi spoke to NPR early today as he got in place for a long day of protests.
Mr. ELJAHMI: Unless you shut doors in Gadhafi and tell him to play by the rules and restrict him, he will always find a way. And the State Department made a mistake. They should have restricted him to the island of Manhattan, but they didn't.
KELEMEN: The State Department did prevent Gadhafi from staying in New Jersey but has not restricted his travel. Gadhafi didn't address the issue in his speech, though he did suggest that the U.N. General Assembly move somewhere else next year, so that delegations wouldn't have to face the same security restrictions and maybe wouldn't be so jet-lagged.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.