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New Jersey mayor in court to keep Gadhafi out

NEWARK, N.J. — A northern New Jersey mayor said he's going to court Friday to stop renovation work at the mansion where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi wants to stay next month when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly.

"If the U.S. State Department won't shut this down, we will," Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes said. "New Jersey's governor, its two U.S. senators and its U.S. congressmen are all on board on this."

Libyan intelligence is widely believed to have orchestrated the 1988 attack on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 aboard — including 38 people from New Jersey. Gadhafi, who has worked to try to rehabilitate his image in recent years, provoked a backlash last week by helping secure the release of the only man arrested in the bombing from a Scottish prison. Television cameras captured Gadhafi giving Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber, a warm greeting as a cheering crowd welcomed him back to Libya.

Already, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, U.S. senators and representatives from New York and New Jersey have protested Gadhafi's plan to stay at the sprawling estate in the upscale community 12 miles from Manhattan when he addresses the UN next month. Gadhafi is expected to pitch a ceremonial Bedouin-style tent on the grounds, after a request to erect it in Manhattan's Central Park was rejected, according to officials.

"I support what Mayor Wildes is trying to do," said Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, N.J., whose 20-year-old brother Richard Monetti was on board Pan Am Flight 103. "The one thing we do not want is Gadhafi in New Jersey."

The Libyan government, which bought the Englewood estate in 1982, is renovating the property extensively. Wildes said mansion workers have violated numerous city ordinances by tearing down trees and part of a neighboring fence and expanding the mansion's pool without proper permits. He said they may also have violated state environmental rules by encroaching upon a stream that runs through the 5-acre property.

The city previously sought to slow the renovation via a stop work order, which allowed the imposition of fines. The Libyans have ignored the order. The injunction will allow Wildes to send Englewood police onto the property to halt work.

The city plans to request an injunction Friday at 3 p.m. from Bergen County Superior Court Judge Robert Contillo. Wildes said he expects a decision from Contillo in the next few days.

"The governor supports the mayor's efforts and has repeatedly said that Gadhafi is not welcome in New Jersey," said Robert Corrales, a spokesman for Corzine.

U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, whose district includes Englewood, has promised there will be "hell to pay" if the U.S. State Department lets Gadhafi stay in Englewood.

The four U.S. senators from New York and New Jersey, all Democrats, said they will introduce a resolution condemning Al-Megrahi's release and his welcome home to Libya.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey described the welcome as "sick."

"To see such a celebration for a murderer was a shocking insult to decency," Lautenberg said.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said the Libyan government should apologize. Fifty-nine New Yorkers died in the 1988 bombing.

"The victims' families have had no peace since the day this evil act occurred and now their wounds have been reopened," Schumer said.

Ahmed Gebreel, a spokesman for the Libyan Mission to the United Nations, was unavailable for comment. Nicole DiCocco, spokeswoman for the Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to comment.