Qaddafi plays chess, As Libya burns
By Rizwan Khatik - Tue Jun 14, 6:49 am
Libyan state television showed Qaddafi, dressed all in black and wearing dark sunglasses, playing chess Sunday evening with the eccentric Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who until last year was the leader of Russia’s predominantly Buddhist republic of Kalmykia.
Ilyumzhinov, who says the game was handed down from outerspace and aliens once abducted him, judged Qaddafi only an “amateur” player and boasted he easily got the best of him on Sunday.
The chess czar’s visit to Tripoli — which Moscow says was purely a private affair — gave a rare, if offbeat glimpse of Qaddafi’s surroundings four months into the rebellion against his rule.
“He is very calm. He plays chess normally, adequately,” Ilyumzhinov told radio Ekho Moskvye.
“Yesterday’s match with Qaddafi ended in a draw. I offered the drawn game. After all it is impolite to win when you’re a guest,” Ilyumzhinov told the Interfax news agency after his return to Moscow.
Before leaving for Tripoli, Ilyumzhinov contacted Russian presidential envoy Mikhail Margelov, who is trying to mediate in Libya’s civil war.
Margelov said he advised Ilyumzhinov “to play white E2-E4 (a chess opening) and to make it clear to Qaddafi that his strategy goes to the end game,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Russia has joined the West in urging Qaddafi to step down, and Margelov said while visiting the rebel stronghold of Benghazi last week that the Libyan leader had lost his legitimacy.
Ilyumzhinov appeared to ignore the advice. Allowing Qaddafi to play white, he seemed to be showing him how to begin the game and then called it a draw.
“I offered to draw, because it’s not polite to win when you’re a guest, ” Interfax quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying Monday.
The two men have known each other since at least 2004, when the chess federation, known by its French acronym, FIDE, held its world championship in Tripoli.
Ilyumzhinov, a wealthy businessman, had been the leader of Kalmykia from 1993 until he stepped down last October.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying Qaddafi told him he has no intention of leaving Libya despite international pressure as rebels with NATO air support fight to end his 40-year rule.
Ilyumzhinov said he took on Qaddafi in an “administrative building” in Tripoli. He added that he later played the leader’s eldest son and visited the bomb-scarred family compound where Libyan officials said NATO air strikes had killed several of Qaddafi’s relatives last month.
Chess-mad Ilyumzhinov claims aliens brought the game to Earth and has built a sprawling complex devoted to chess in Russia’s southern Buddhist region of Kalmykia, where he ruled for 17 years. He also told Russian TV earlier last year that aliens took him for a spin in their spaceship in 1997.
Ilyumzhinov said the Libyan leader told him he had no intention of stepping down or leaving the country, despite being weakened by defections in his entourage, sanctions on supplies and the effects of NATO air strikes on his compound.
The chess tsar quoted Qaddafi as saying: “I am neither premier nor president nor king. I do not hold any post in Libya and therefore I have no position which I should give up.”
At the G8 summit last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev joined Western partners in urging Qaddafi to step down.
Margelov is due to travel to Tripoli soon to meet members of Qaddafi’s government after meeting with Libyan rebel leaders in Benghazi as part of a mediation effort by Russia, which has criticized Western air strikes and said they would not resolve the conflict.