Berlusconi and Gaddafi launch Libya motorway project

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi launched a motorway project that will cover the entire length of Libya's coastline, a project long-demanded as reparation for Italy's colonial occupation of the country.


AFP - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi laid the foundation stone on Sunday for an ambitious highway stretching along the entire Libyan coast, an AFP correspondent said.

The 1,200 kilometre (750 mile) highway has long been demanded by Libya as compensation for Rome's occupation and colonial rule over the north African country from 1911 until World War II.

The foundation stone for the road, which will stretch from the Tunisian border in the west to the Egyptian frontier in the east, was laid at Touisha, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Tripoli.

Berlusconi arrived in Libya in early afternoon and was to share an iftar meal breaking the Muslim dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast with Kadhafi before returning to Rome later on Sunday, an Italian official said.

His visit and the launch of the highway project formed part of celebrations marking the first anniversary of a friendship treaty signed between Libya and Italy a year ago.

Under the treaty, Rome will pay five billion dollars (3.5 billion euros) in compensation in the form of investments over the next 25 years.

In return, Libya is to crack down on illegal migration from its shores.

Since May, Italy has returned around 1,000 illegal immigrants to Libya, according to estimates by Italian news agency Ansa.

Berlusconi's visit precedes Tuesday's 40th anniversary of the coup that brought Kadhafi to power in Libya -- an event being shunned by top Western leaders.

The Italian government has said Berlusconi would not be attending the celebrations, which come as Tripoli continues to take heat for the hero's welcome it offered convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi.

Megrahi's release from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds last Thursday sparked angry US reactions and allegations that it was part of a deal to secure trade and other concessions from oil-rich Libya.

Libyan newspapers splashed photographs of the homecoming of Megrahi, the only person convicted of involvement in the bombing of a Pan Am flight over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people including 180 Americans.

Television showed images of Kadhafi embracing the convicted bomber.

Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa announced on Saturday that Italy and Libya would stage joint military exercises as part of the friendship agreement, but gave no details.

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