[This is the headline over an article published today on the website of The Guardian. It reads in part:]
Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, has engaged a New York PR firm to present the face of a modern reforming state
It looked, for a while, just like the bad old days: a handful of angry demonstrators on one side of a London street, shouting "Gaddafi is a murderer" and waving placards as a larger group of men on the other pavement lobbed back Arabic insults over the heads of the watching policemen. But the past was swiftly banished when Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, began to speak from the podium in a university lecture hall packed with businessmen, diplomats and students.
Saif, 37, is the face of modern, reforming Libya, emerging from its long years as a pariah state to become a dazzling mecca for western investment, with a reinvigorated energy industry, billions of dollars in cash reserves, a re-opened US embassy, and even plans for mass tourism.
Gaddafi junior has no formal position in the Jamihiriya – the "state of the masses" – but he is an energetic champion of change who has a finger in most pies in Libya, as well as jet-setting friends such as Britain's Lord Mandelson. It is widely assumed that he will one day succeed his father, although he insists he is a democrat for whom dynastic rule ended with the 1969 revolution.
Saif got all the difficult old issues out of the way at the start of his speech at the London School of Economics this week; a rare public appearance. He surveyed Libya's decision to dismantle its programme to develop nuclear and chemical weapons, the lifting of UN sanctions, the settlement of claims relating to the Lockerbie bombing and the end of a long row with Bulgaria over medics who were jailed for allegedly infecting children with the Aids virus.
A predictable question about Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi, the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber who was freed from his Scottish prison and allowed to go home to die last summer, produced a response so terse it was almost non-existent: Saif is evidently well-advised by his New York PR company.
The trick is to focus on the country's new-found respectability and its future prospects.
"For young Libyans particularly, this shift has seemed like a dream come true, a dramatic change, and a very welcome one," he beamed.
"In this new phase, we began to look to find our own way, to develop our economy and reform our political system, and furthermore to adapt to a globalised, interdependent world."