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What fighting? Gadhafi plays chess with visitor

As the world awaits Moammar Gadhafi's next move, the Libyan leader has been playing chess with the visiting Russian head of the World Chess Federation.
Image:
An image capture taken from Libyan state television shows Libyan leader Moamer Khadafi playing chess with head of the World Chess Federation, in Tripoli on June 12, 2011.- / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

As the world awaits Moammar Gadhafi's next move, the Libyan leader has been playing chess with the visiting Russian head of the World Chess Federation.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov — who says the game was handed down from outerspace and aliens once abducted him — judged Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi's surroundings four months into the rebellion against his rule.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying Gadhafi 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.

"He is very calm. He plays chess normally, adequately," Ilyumzhinov told radio Ekho Moskvye.

On Monday, government artillery rained down on rebel forces, but failed to stop their advance into key ground west of their stronghold at Libya's major port.

The rebels control roughly the eastern one-third of Libya as well as Misrata, the country's major port. The also claim to have taken parts of coastal oil center of Zawiya in the far west. That port city is 18 miles west of Tripoli and a prize that would put them in striking distance of the capital. Control of the city also would cut one of Gadhafi's last supply routes from Tunisia.

The Sunday Libyan state television footage of the chess game showed Gadhafi, dressed all in black and wearing dark sunglasses, looking relaxed and Ilyumzhinov beaming as they faced off over a crystal-studded chess board in an office decorated with a portrait of Gadhafi in military dress.

Neither premier, president, nor kingIlyumzhinov 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 czar quoted Gaddafi 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."

It was unclear where the chess game took place. Gadhafi's compound in the center of Tripoli has been under NATO bombardment and was hit again Sunday.

Ilyumzhinov said he took on Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi's relatives last month.

Gadhafi had not been seen in public since mid-May, and Ilyumzhinov told him how pleased he was to find him healthy and well.

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 Gadhafi that his strategy goes to the end game," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Russia has joined the West in urging Gadhafi to step down, and Margelov said while visiting the rebel stronghold of Benghazi last week that the Libyan leader had lost his legitimacy.

Clinton reiterates: Gadhafi must go Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged African leaders to abandon Gadhafi, saying it was time to live up to their pledges to promote democracy across the continent.

"It is true that Gadhafi has played a major role in providing financial support for many African nations and institutions, including the AU," Clinton said in her speech at the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa. "But it has become clear that we are long past the day when he can remain in power."

Ilyumzhinov appeared to ignore Margelov's advice. Allowing Gadhafi 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.

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.

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.