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After decades in exile, Libyan president Magarief ready to die for democracy

Libya's new president, Mohammed Magarief, tells NBC's Ann Curry that the recent trouble in Libya is the unfortunate price of creating a democracy after decades of dictator-rule. Magarief lived in exile for 20 years in Atlanta before returning to Libya and becoming president.

He was wanted by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, he survived seven assassination attempts and he lived in exile in Atlanta for two decades, but now that he is the new president of Libya, Mohamed Magarief says he is ready to sacrifice his life for his homeland.

"I'm determined. I'm determined to even sacrifice my life for that ... to see Libya as free, democratic," Magarief, an economist and former Libyan ambassador to India, told NBC's Ann Curry in an exclusive interview.

Libyan president to NBC: Anti-Islam film had 'nothing to do with' US Consulate attack

"I have always been ready to sacrifice my life for-- for my dream of Libya," he said.

Magarief's dream of a democratic Libya began to take shape in 1980 with the founding of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a group that pushed for democratic reforms in Libya and opposed Gadhafi's rule.

Magarief, who participated in the group alongside former Libyan diplomats, ambassadors and army generals, said that was his first jump into the fire.

"I started in 1980, when I decide to defect from the regime and call for, openly, for its downfall and toppling and participated with my colleagues for so many years in a very comprehensive program of action to achieve this, to topple Gadhafi and to build a new democratic Libya," he said.

Because of his open opposition of the regime, Magarief was forced into exile, first to Morocco, where Gadhafi went after his family and friends, even killing and disappearing some of those linked to him. When Morocco decided to extradite him to Libya, Magarief sought refuge in Egypt.

In an interview with NBC's Ann Curry, Libya's president Mohammed Magarief said there's 'no doubt' the attack that killed four Americans in Libya was preplanned, and not a result of the controversial anti-Islam movie that sparked violent protests.

He lived in Egypt for seven years, but had to seek refuge yet again when former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak wanted to send him back to Libya, where he was still wanted. In 1991, Magarief and his family moved to Atlanta, where he lived until Gadhafi was toppled in October, 2011.

"I didn't leave home to stay for good in Atlanta. I left my home to return, to hope to return to it after it's liberated from Gadhafi. Having  being liberated now, it's my duty to, it's my dream and my hopes to return to my home, Libya, and to die there, to be buried in Libya," he said.

A transitional leader
Libya's national assembly picked
Magarief as its president in August. He is the leader of the National Front party, an offshoot of the old opposition movement he helped start. Magarief, who is from Benghazi, won 113 votes against independent Ali Zidan, who got 85 votes.

The path Magarief envisions for Libya includes free and open elections and a new constitution. He said he has no desire to stay in power beyond the transitional period, and hopes his successor will be a democratically elected leader. Magarief disagrees with the idea that fundamentalists will be allowed to fill the power vacuum in Libya following the toppling of Gadhafi, adding that Libyans will stand against extremist views.

"These fundamentalists, these extremists, these trends that are, first of all, it has nothing to do with true Islam, real Islam," he said. "The interpretation that these people introduced is not accepted by majority of Muslims."

Magarief discounted claims that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi earlier this month was in response to an anti-Islam movie produced in California and available on YouTube. He noted that the assault happened on Sept. 11 and that the video had been available for months before that.

"Reaction should have been, if it was genuine, .... six months earlier. So it was postponed until the 11th of September," he said. "They chose this date, 11th of September to carry a certain message."

"We consider the United States as a friend, not only a friend, a strong friend, who stood with us in our moment of need," he added.

Magarief admitted it would not be easy for Libya to shake off the legacy that decades of Gadhafi's dictatorship has left behind, but he strongly believes that every country deserves to enjoy democracy.

"This should not continue. If it continues, we'll all pay a heavy price. The solution is freedom, is democracy," he said. "Giving people the chance to -- and I'm sure we'll mature. We'll mature quickly, very quickly. And we'll prove that we are responsible human beings, who deserve freedom and democracy."

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