Gadhafi makes his first visit to Italy in 40 years as leaderImage: AP
Libyan leader in Rome
June 10, 2009
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi visits former colonial ruler Italy this week to forge deeper trade and investment ties amid criticism by right groups of Tripoli's treatment of African migrants.
Gadhafi will receive guests in his tent pitched in the Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome's biggest public park, including some of the Italians he kicked out in 1970 to punish Italy for its 1911-1941 colonization.
As well as meeting with the Italian expellees, Gadhafi's three-day visit will also include a series of meetings with Italian officials, including Premier Silvio Berlusconi, and audiences with university students, businesspeople and a delegation of prominent Italian women.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said Gadhafi and Berlusconi are expected to sign a number of bilateral agreements.
The visit, Gadhafi's first in 40 years as Libyan leader, was made possible by a treaty signed last August providing for Italy to invest $5 billion (3.4 billion euros) in Libya to make up for its 30 years of occupation of the oil-rich North African state.
Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before become officially a colony in the 1930s. The country gained its independence in 1951 after a brief period under a UN-mandated Franco-British administration.
Last year's friendship and cooperation treaty also gives Libya an apology for its colonization and grants Italy greater rights to Libyan gas and oil, according to Berlusconi.
Libya had used the regular departure from its shores of boatloads of illegal immigrants headed for Italy as a way of putting pressure on Rome.
Italy finally accepted joint patrols in its territorial waters and the two countries recently signed a controversial new immigration accord under which Italy repatriates migrants who set off from Libyan shores and who are intercepted on the Mediterranean.
Business opportunities on the agenda
The historic visit, one which seemed less likely than Gadhafi “visiting Saturn” according to a recent Libyan newspaper editorial, is also likely to include a round of business talks. The Libyan leader is scheduled to meet business chiefs and people from the worlds of industry politics and culture on Friday.
Italy is Libya's biggest trading partner and also its leading supplier of goods.
Jomaa al-Asta, president of the Libyan general union of chambers of trade and industry, said 52 Italian companies have operations in Libya, the most of any country.
"We would like still larger Italian investments," Asta said. "We want them to be our partners in Africa and for us to be their partners in Europe."
Italian business will be closely watching to see if the visit boosts Libya's growing tally of Italian investments, including banking group UniCredit, as the oil producer's $65 billion sovereign wealth fund weighs a stake in Italian power producer Enel.
Libya's investment drive in Italy has only just begun and Italian firms can also hope for lucrative contracts in post-sanctions Libya as among the fruits of warmer political ties, analysts say.
Amnesty slams Libya's treatment of refugees
Meanwhile, Amnesty International used the visit to slam Gadhafi for Tripoli's treatment of African migrants.
Calling on Italian leaders to insist on human rights "guarantees" from Tripoli, the London-based humanitarian group also blasted Rome for the controversial policy it began implementing last month under which hundreds of boat people intercepted in the Mediterranean were returned to Libya from where they set out.
The boat people were not given a chance to apply for asylum and were "forcibly returned to Libya without regard for any evaluation of their need for international protection," Amnesty Italy said in a statement.
An Amnesty delegation visited a detention centre in Misratah, northwestern Libya, where "hundreds of non-Libyan citizens, most coming from Eritrea but also from Somalia, Nigeria and Mali, are held in conditions of serious overcrowding," it said.
"There were between 600 and 700 people in a space with a maximum capacity of 350," Amnesty said in a statement.
During the visit, Amnesty heard "worrying reports of discriminatory and degrading treatment and maltreatment of migrants from sub-Saharan African countries by Libyan citizens and Libyan police forces," it said.
"Libya does not have a functioning system of asylum... denies the presence of refugees in its territory... (and has) indicated that it has no intention of adhering to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees," Amnesty added.