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Gaddafi chooses chess to make bizarre move over Libya conflict

By Shuan Walker

It will go down as one of the more bizarre attempts at conflict mediation. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov , the head of world chess body FIDE, former ruler of a Buddhist region of Russia and a self-declared alien abductee, sat down with Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli to discuss the Libyan conflict ... and play a game of chess.

Mr Ilyumzhinov said yesterday that Colonel Gaddafi told him he had no intention of leaving Libya during talks at an undisclosed location in Tripoli.

The game ended in a draw, which Mr Ilyumzhinov said he offered sportingly, so as not to offend his host.

"Of course, he was weaker - much weaker - than me, but it was interesting," the FIDE president told Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy. "I offered the drawn game. It would not have been diplomatic to have beaten him."

Gaddafi's game was apparently rather rusty and Mr Ilyumzhinov appears to have been showing him how to play at times. If the Libyan leader now develops a passion for the game, however, he wouldn't be the first dictator to do so. Napoleon enjoyed chess, though it has been suggested that one of the greatest military strategists wasn't much good. His impetuous moves on the board "might have have saved Wellington a great deal of trouble" if they'd been replicated at Waterloo, according to the great chess writer Israel Albert Horowitz.

Lenin was both keen and rather talented at the game, as long as he concentrated on it. Fidel Castro was another fan (though he was eclipsed in talent by Che Guevara, a strong club player). Others were less enamoured - Ivan the Terrible banned it in the 16th century until he had a change of heart. So great was his volte-face, that he was supposedly playing the game when he dropped dead, possibly after being poisoned by his opponent.

However, the most extraordinary meshing of chess and politics was by Mr Ilyumzhinov himself, during his rule of the arid steppe region of Kalmykia in southern Russia. The FIDE chief made chess lessons compulsory for schoolchildren and built a 'Chess City' complex on the edge of the region's capital.

Mr Ilyumzhinov's visit to Libya is not the first time that he has put his faith in "chess diplomacy". Last year he wrote to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg proposing an initiative to build a World Chess Centre on the Ground Zero site. In the future "the only battles between East and West will be over a chessboard", he said at the time.

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