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Europe

On state visit, Gaddafi gets a mixed welcome from politicians

Latest update : 2009-06-11

Opposition lawmakers threatened to boycott a speech by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on an official visit to Italy, his country's former colonial ruler. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, however, accorded Gaddafi a red-carpet welcome.

AFP - Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi faced a boycott Thursday by angry Italian lawmakers on the second day of an official visit in which he has re-opened colonial-era sores.
   
Kadhafi's speech to the Italian Senate had to be moved from the main chamber to the lesser Sala Zuccari after the Italian opposition vowed to shun his address.
   
Newspapers in Italy, Libya's former colonial master, were disparaging of Kadhafi the day after he stirred up old resentments by arriving sporting a photograph of a hanged resistance leader.
   
"Amnesia over the history of the Libyan leader cannot be justified by reasons of state," wrote the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore, describing Kadhafi as "one of the worst despots currently in power."
   
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi accorded a red-carpet welcome to Kadhafi and his 200-strong entourage at the start of the three-day visit Wednesday to consolidate a friendship treaty signed last year.
   
Kadhafi sported on the front of his military uniform a photograph of Omar Al-Mokhtar, a Libyan resistance leader during the colonial era.
   
The picture showed Mokhtar at the time of his arrest in 1931 under Mussolini's fascist regime.
   
The Libyan leader, whose regime admitted responsibility for the 1988 attack on a Pan Am jetliner over Scotland that claimed 270 lives, went on to urge "understanding" of terrorism.
   
"People should try hard to understand the reasons for terrorism and not limit themselves only to the effects, just as with the phenomenon of piracy," Kadhafi said during an hour-long statement.
   
He praised Berlusconi for his "bravery in taking this historic decision to apologise to the Libyan people" for Rome's 1911-47 military occupation and colonisation of Libya.
   
He said Libyan "martyrs were attacked by (Italy's wartime dictator Benito) Mussolini just for defending their territory. Many crimes were committed during this era, with thousands deported."
   
The August 2008 treaty was "not a matter of accounts or dollars but of principles," Kadhafi said, adding: "Let's hope other colonial states will follow Italy's example."
   
Italy and Libya have a "real and deep friendship," Berlusconi said at a joint press conference with the eccentric Libyan strongman who has gradually returned to the international fold since scrapping ambitions to build weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
   
The visit seals a major rapprochement symbolised by the treaty under which Italy will pay five billion dollars (3.5 billion euros) in compensation for the colonial period over the next 25 years.
   
It comes amid criticism of Italy's decision to return to Libya some 500 would-be immigrants caught in international waters, under a new policy introduced last month.
   
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday slammed the visit, saying it "celebrates a dirty deal" under which the two countries "run roughshod over refugee and migrant rights.
   
"It looks less like friendship and more like a dirty deal to enable Italy to dump migrants and asylum seekers on Libya and evade its obligations," the New York-based rights group said in a statement.
   
Rome has worked to improve its relations with Tripoli in recent years in a bid to rein in a massive influx of migrants, many of whom come by boat from Libya across the Mediterranean.
   
The European refugee agency noted last week that Libya is the only African country that is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, does not have any asylum procedures and often indefinitely detains people seeking protection.
   
Several hundred people protested at human rights violations in Libya in a central Rome square Wednesday.
   
Kadhafi, the Arab world's longest serving leader who has been in power since 1969, will also attend next month's Group of Eight summit in Italy as the rotating president of the African Union.
 

Date created : 2009-06-11

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