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Libya, Italy end T-shirt row

Latest update : 2008-05-10

A newly appointed Italian minister apologised to Libya for wearing a T-shirt that offended Muslims in 2006. Libya accepted the apology and withdrew previous threats of "repercussions" against Italy.

ROME, May 9 (Reuters) - Libya accepted on Friday an apology
from an Italian minister whose T-shirt offended Muslims in 2006,
and withdrew threats of "repercussions" against Italy over the
anti-immigrant party politician's inclusion in a new government.

Roberto Calderoli of the Northern League was named this week
as a member of the new administration of Silvio Berlusconi, who
was installed as prime minister for a third term.

A statement from the Libyan embassy in Rome said Libya noted
"with satisfaction" the "public statement of regret" by
Calderoli and, after further contacts with the Italian
authorities, considered that "the case is closed".

Berlusconi, facing a diplomatic clash -- and possible energy
sanctions -- after Libya made clear its anger at his choice of
minister, said earlier he was "confident we will be able to
clarify and calm down the situation with Libyan authorities".

Calderoli quit Berlusconi's last government in 2006 after
wearing a T-shirt with a Danish cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad
that angered Muslims worldwide. He was blamed for rioting that
broke out at Italy's consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

Libya had warned of "catastrophic consequences" if Calderoli
became a minister again and reacted to his swearing-in on
Thursday by saying it would no longer cooperate on preventing
illegal immigrants from Africa landing on Italian shores.

The Libyan government was reported to be preparing sanctions
against Italy such as shelving an agreement to extend the
activities of Italian energy company ENI in Libya.



Returning as minister for "simplification" -- a new post
without a full ministerial portfolio -- Calderoli was asked by
Italian television about Libya's angry response to his
appointment, and whether he regretted the T-shirt incident.

"Mine was a message of peace and rapprochement between the
monotheistic religions but was misunderstood," he said. "I hope
there aren't any problems today linked to something in the past
that should be considered water under the bridge."

The Libyan embassy's statement said Calderoli had had
further talks with the ambassador "during which he clarified the
sense of the declarations he had already made to the media of
the two countries."

New Foreign Minister Franco Frattini earlier on Friday
called Libya "a friend" and said Italy "is committed to helping
to develop those initiatives of strong collaboration with Europe
that Libya wants."

Italy is Libya's main trading partner in Europe and ENI's
Libyan assets are the subject of negotiations in the company's
landmark cooperation deal with Russia's Gazprom.

Earlier on Friday Libya had demanded that Calderoli either
step down or apologise for the 2006 episode.

"If the Italian government does not adopt one of these two
options, it has to prepare itself for confronting the
repercussions from its choice," the Gaddafi International
Foundation said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The Foundation is chaired by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's
son Saif al-Islam, widely thought to play a major role in
Libya's diplomacy with Western states.

Since the T-shirt incident, Calderoli has continued to
offend Muslims in Italy by protesting at the construction of new
mosques and threatening "pig day" protests to defile them. He
once walked his own pet pig over a site intended for a mosque.

The Northern League, a long-standing ally of Berlusconi, is
know for its vehement anti-immigrant rhetoric. The party made
surprise gains in mid-April's election and was rewarded with
four cabinet posts, including the Interior Ministry.

Date created : 2008-05-10