Gaddafi calls on Europe to convert to Islam on trip to Rome
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Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi has called on Europe to convert to Islam during a trip to Italy Monday. However, behind the theatrics, the colonel’s lucrative investments underscore Tripoli’s growing influence on Italy's economy.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met close ally, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday to mark the second anniversary of a friendship treaty signed between his country and its former colonial power, Italy.
The flamboyant Colonel landed at Fiumicino airport on Sunday with his customary following of “amazon” female bodyguards, Arabian thoroughbreds and trademark Bedouin tent, the proposed location of which has been the subject of much debate in the Italian media.
Gaddafi and Berlusconi are expected to share iftar, the meal breaking the days fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.
Furthermore, the Libyan leader staged a repeat of the most talked-about event of his last visit in November of last year, when 200 attractive – and somewhat bemused – women recruited by an agency were invited to a Roman villa and treated to a surprise lecture on Islam by the Libyan leader himself.
This time, Gaddafi called on Europe to convert to Islam during a lecture on Sunday to 500 young women, mainly students, who were paid 70 or 80 euros to attend his talk. The participants were also asked to dress conservatively.
While much of the programme has been kept secret, Gaddafi and his retinue were expected to indulge in the sort of “spontaneous” walks round Rome’s city centre that so intrigued the locals the last time he was in town.
Gaddafi’s theatrics have made him into something of a darling of the Italian media, to the point of obscuring the real interests that underlie his alliance with Berlusconi’s Italy.
“In the media coverage of Gaddafi’s visits, the choreography always trumps the substance,” said Ettore Livini, a journalist at Italian daily La Repubblica, in an interview with France24.com.
Under the treaty signed two years ago in Tripoli, Italy offered a formal apology and financial compensation for the hardships suffered by Libyans during the colonial era.
The treaty helped change Libya’s status from pariah state to respectable partner, and gave the go-ahead to a series of bilateral investments between the two countries, the total value of which has been estimated at 40 billion euros.
Much of that money has come from none other than Gaddafi himself, who as undisputed leader of Libya is also the main recipient of the country’s oil wealth. On his visit, Gaddafi has been meeting up with Italian business leaders.
Over the past two years, the Colonel has acquired stakes in a number of strategic Italian companies, becoming the fifth-biggest shareholder on the Milan stock exchange. Libya also owns about six percent of Italy's largest bank, Unicredit.
“Gaddafi’s purchases have been guided by Berlusconi himself,” said La Repubblica’s Livini. “Nowhere is this more the case than with Unicredit,” he added, referring to the hugely influential bank at the heart of a tangle of shareholdings that stretch into virtually all sectors of the Italian economy.
Livini says these investments give the Libyan leader a word in the management of a whole array of companies, including Il Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading newspaper and one Berlusconi has long sought to control.
In the meantime, Italy has recovered its position as Libya’s main trade partner, while Italian firms Ansaldo and ENI have recently secured lucrative contracts to renew Libya’s transport infrastructure and exploit the country’s plentiful natural resources.
But the next step of the Berlusconi-Gaddafi alliance, selling Italian arms to Libya, is likely to prove more controversial.