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Libya orders race riot executions

Libya sentenced at least seven people to death...

Libya sentenced at least seven people to death on Monday in connection with bloody riots between locals and migrants workers from countries south of the Sahara late last year.

Two of those sentenced to death were Libyan nationals, and five were African migrant workers, the state news agency Jana reported.

A tribunal in Tripoli handed out prison sentences to hundreds of others from Nigeria, Niger, Ghana and Chad convicted of involvement in last year's violence.

Libya has tried to play down the signficance of the episode, although according to several reports, hundreds of people died in the clashes.

"It was embarassing for [Libya's leader Muammer] Gadaffi, who wants to take a leadershp role in the region, and talks about the spirit of African brotherhood", said Alison Pargeter, a research fellow at King's College. The courts have sent a strong message to opponents of Mr Gadaffi's policies by including Libyan nationals amongst those sentenced to death, Ms Pargeter said.

Political tension over immigration has risen steadily in Libya since the late 1990s due to frustration with economic conditions and in reaction to Mr Gadaffi's encouragement of migration from sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the suspension of UN sanctions in 1999 and strong world oil prices, unemployment in Libya reamins steady at 30 per cent and inflation continues to rise.

The sentences follow the discovery on Friday by Libyan authorities of 93 decomposed bodies of migrants in the Sahara desert seeking to cross into Libya, who had become stranded and died of thirst.