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Ex-Libyan oil minister 'drowned'

A former Libyan premier and oil minister, whose body was found in the Danube river close to where he had a residence in Vienna, drowned, according to autopsy results.

Austrian police spokesman Roman Hahslinger also said that the autopsy results on Shukri Ghanem's body show there were no signs of violence.

Mr Hahslinger suggested the death may have been an accident and that Mr Ghanem had complained to his daughter late on Saturday that he was not feeling well. He said no suicide note had been found and there is no evidence Mr Ghanem was under threat.

The police spokesman said the results of toxicological tests are expected later this week as part of the investigation into the drowning.

Mr Ghanem abandoned Muammar Gaddafi's regime to support the rebels. He last served as his country's oil minister until last year. He left Libya for Tunisia and then Europe in June as insurgents were pushing to topple Gaddafi, and he subsequently announced he would support the rebels.

He was said to be autocratic at home but reporters covering the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries remembered him as a friendly man who readily gave his mobile phone number to selected journalists covering OPEC ministerial meetings and gracefully took even late-evening calls.

With advanced degrees in law and economics, Mr Ghanem served in senior positions within the Vienna-based OPEC before his appointment as Libyan prime minister in June 2003 - an office he held until 2006 when he took the oil ministry portfolio.

Considered a member of Gaddafi's inner circle until his defection, he insisted that Libya bore no responsibility for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. He also repudiated Libyan responsibility in the 1984 shooting death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher during a protest in front of his country's embassy - an incident that led to the severing of British-Libyan relations.

Such comments branded him as a loyal servant of the Gaddafi clan. At the same time, he worked quietly from the inside to change the face of Libya.

He became premier as the country began to transform itself from an international pariah accused of fomenting terrorism and crippled by sanctions to one seen as instituting reforms that led to growing economic and political ties with the United States and Europe. That process was bolstered by Gaddafi's decision to give up Libya's fledgling nuclear arms programme in 2003.

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